Cuban revolution 60 years ago

On January 1st, 1959, Fidel Castro and his guerillas took over Cuba as President Batista fled into exile. Although initially hailed as a liberation, it quickly became apparent that one dictatorship was being replaced by another. Indeed, the Communist takeover replaced an authoritarian dictatorship with a totalitarian one. There followed the public execution of many who had served under Batista, with Ché Guevara personally shooting some of those condemned.

Castro consolidated his grip on power, nationalising key industries, banning private schools, and confiscating church property. Private lands were appropriated, and an aggressive, anti-US foreign policy was introduced, including armed intervention in foreign military conflicts. The US responded with sanctions, and Cuba became a client state of the Soviet Union, which bought its sugar crop in exchange for essentials. The Cuban economy stagnated under central planning, with shortages and rationing becoming the norm.

Castro's vehement anti-Americanism came to a head when he agreed to station Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, aimed at he US. When the US insisted they be removed, and Kruschev backed down, Castro felt betrayed, because he would have preferred a nuclear confrontation.

Cuba will no doubt celebrate the 60th anniversary of its revolution, but it gave the Cuban people a bleak future. Hundreds of thousands risked their lives to flee in small boats to a welcoming US, and the economy they left behind remained locked in a time warp. Things could have been otherwise. A democratic government could have given Cuba the benefits that globalisation brought elsewhere, and made the country rich and prosperous. But 60 years ago this was not on offer.