Thursday, December 18, 2014

Remembering Batista

Back in 1959, the year of the Cuban Revolution, I was a mere 23—and a soldier in the U.S. Army. It was my early experience of adulthood. I was a keen reader of Time magazine and proud to be a subscriber. And here came that revolution. What caused that revolution? Well, it was the dictatorship of one Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar; by happenstance, having just looked up again how Spanish names are formed, I know that Zaldívar was Batista’s mother’s maiden name.

He came from a humble background. As Wikipedia’s article on him puts it, “he earned a living as a laborer in the cane fields, docks, and railroads. He was a tailor, mechanic, charcoal vendor and fruit peddler.” His army career had parallels to mine. He learned shorthand and later taught it—and it was as a sergeant-stenographer (I was one of those too) that he lead a revolution in 1933 (the Revolt of the Sergeants). It overthrew Gerardo Machado, an authoritarian ruler and a general in the Cuban War of Independence.

Though from humble background, once turned dictator of Cuba, Batista favored moneyed interests. To quote from Wikipedia again, Batista…

…suspended the 1940 Constitution and revoked most political liberties, including the right to strike. He then aligned with the wealthiest landowners who owned the largest sugar plantations, and presided over a stagnating economy that widened the gap between rich and poor Cubans. Batista's increasingly corrupt and repressive government then began to systematically profit from the exploitation of Cuba's commercial interests, by negotiating lucrative relationships with the American mafia, who controlled the drug, gambling, and prostitution businesses in Havana, and with large multinational American corporations that had invested considerable amounts of money in Cuba.
    Wikipedia (link).

The man who overcame Batista was himself the child of a wealthy sugar plantation owner, became a lawyer and, as a dictator, favored the lower classes against the powers of commercial wealth.

I feel a certain commonality with Fidel Castro too—namely an inherent dislike of what is called “freedom” nowadays. Nothing wrong with freedom understood in a basic sense. But when it means the unchecked power of a Free Market Oligopoly, my sympathies go to the Castros of the world. And in that context I foresee bad times coming to Cuba if the wheel turns again and the Machados and Batistas once more rise and Cuba undergoes a change back to its pre-Castro ways.

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