I’ve been to Cuba 25 times. I’ve studied the country for the last ten years. And I’d be foolish to call myself an expert on Cuba. It’s a complex country that defies simple explanations.
That said, I want to share some historical details that might give you some insights into the situation there, especially in light of the tense relationship between the United States and Cuba.
Cuba was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1492. I put “discovered” in quotes because many knew of the islands existence before then; those that knew just weren’t Europeans.
Spain quickly made Cuba a base for its operations in the New World. And Cuba was one of the last American countries to free itself from Spanish rule, not gaining independence from that country until 1898.
At that time, the United States placed Cuba under its control. The U.S. would not recognize Cuban independence until the Cubans accepted the provisions of the Platt Amendment, provisions which granted the U.S. the right to intervene in Cuba when it was deemed necessary and also gave the U.S. control of Guantánamo Bay.
Cuba had “independence” but it was far from free. When opposition forces threatened the rule of Tomás Estrada Palma (who is famous for allowing the Platt Amendment to be imposed on the Cuban people), Estrada Palma appealed to the United States. U.S. troops invaded the country in 1906 and occupied Cuba until new elections were held in 1909. In 1912, the United States intervened in Cuba again, this time to put down an uprising by Cubans of African descent in an action known as the Negro Rebellion.
In 1916, American sugarcane plantation owners in Cuba appealed to the U.S. for protection from left-wing forces who opposed the elected Cuban government. Marines were sent to the island, especially because of fears that Germany might work with the insurgents to attack U.S. interests. U.S. troops remained on the island until 1922 (after that, forces remained at Guantánamo Bay, as they still do).
In 1933, elements of the Cuban military overthrew the government. The U.S. ambassador requested military intervention, and F.D.R. sent 29 warships in response. The Cuban president, Ramón Grau, cancelled the Platt amendment in protest. General Fulgencio Batista forced Grau out in 1934, becoming the de facto leader of Cuba, with the approval of F.D.R.
Batista was a brutal leader who ruled Cuba with an iron hand. He was friendly toward the U.S., however, so he enjoyed the full support of Washington. He served as elected president from 1940 until 1944, then as dictator from 1952-1959, until he was overthrown by Fidel Castro.
What’s the point? Cuba hasn’t known freedom. Not really. Politicians in Florida will try and convince the world that the Castro regime is the problem. They’re wrong. Castro is a symptom, part of a greater problem that goes back to the day that Columbus laid eyes on Cuba. Powerful people have seen Cuba as something to be used and controlled. Cuba is blessed with resources and an enviable geographic location; it’s cursed by the same factors, as these lead the powerful of the world to covet Cuba.
Whatever is announced by the U.S. government tomorrow, I pray that it will be for the good of the Cuban people. And whatever course Cuba takes when Raul Castro steps down in February, I pray that it will be for the good of the Cuban people.