bathimpact advent calendar, December 2nd 1961: Castro declares himself a Communist

In the immediate aftermath of the Cuban Revolution of January 1959, Fidel Castro cautiously stepped away from the limelight. Hiding himself in the Havana Hilton, he delicately pulled the strings of an ‘interim’ president he had hand-picked as thousands of ‘counter-revolutionaries’ were executed and many more were forced into exile.

Throughout the Revolution, Castro had masterfully established himself as the unequivocal figurehead of the movement through carefully selected interviews with international press and a his own, mini cult of personality. His brief, six-week absence in these early days was deliberate; he wanted the people to demand his reappearance. In mid-February, his puppet Prime Minister left the country and Castro took hold of the position after receiving the ‘call up’ from the masses.

Fidel Castro built a cult of personality around himself, not Communism

Castro was purely Machiavellian in his approach to politics. This is most characterised by his uncertain, slow acceptance of Socialism; an event which took place fifty-three years ago today. Whilst most assume that Socialism was the raison d’etre of the Cuban Revolution, Castro himself was a self-declared ‘political illiterate’ well into early adulthood. In fact, his ideology seemed only defined as anti-American and anti-social injustice; two ideas which were far from radical in 1950s Latin America.

As the son of a United Fruit farm-owner, a company synonymous with imperialism, Castro had seen the inequalities which existed in rural Cuba. Castro, like many Cubans, blamed much of this on the United States, who had propped up myriad authoritarian regimes since the country’s independence; in fact, a clause in their constitution explicitly allowed the US to send in troops any time they saw ‘order’ as being at risk.

For Castro, socialism was not the role of the Revolution, but real independence as envisioned by the nation’s spiritual leader: Jose Marti. This meant that Cuba could have no ruler other than the people; especially not America.

As the Revolution spread, Castro was slowly influenced by his Marxist-leaning comrades – in particular Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and his brother, Raul. Fidel, however, never committed to the idea as he aimed to consolidate power around himself, not an ideology. When asked in 1959 if he was Communist, Castro said: “I will be Communist, if I can be Stalin”, a clear indication of his long-term plans to dominate the island’s political scene.

Castro committed to socialism in the aftermath of the infamous, US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion. Angered by social projects which nationalised or heavily taxed American companies, the CIA began funding Cuban exiles before President Kennedy eventually ordered the attack in April, 1961. Despite initially trying to appease American concerns, the invasion convinced Castro that the Americans would only ever work with Cuba if they were under their direct influence, beginning over fifty years of severed relations.

Behind Castro was simplistic ideas, but also a thirst for real power which could only be gained through cutting ties with America. This in turn led Cuba into an alliance with the Soviet Union and the establishment of a solidified, Marxist authoritarian regime. Communism was not an ideology to Castro, but a power grab.

Latest from Advent