To really understand
Fidel Castro, we
must understand the
role of the U.S. in
shaping Cuba and
The American Spark
Who Was Castro? - Understanding What Made Him
By Cliff Montgomery - Dec. 6th, 2016
Fidel Castro is dead.
Whatever one’s view of the man, it’s clear that for more than half a century Castro had an undeniable impact on
Many are rushing to pass judgment on him. But one person’s devil is usually another man’s saint; and a verdict
is often little more than an unintended confession.
We may never completely understand Fidel Castro. But by looking at a few of his successes and a few of
his failures, we might at least discover some of his motivations ... and perhaps even provide a much-needed
window into our current world.
To do this, we must understand the role of the U.S. in shaping Cuba and Castro himself. It’s an influence that
goes back to the earliest days of the U.S. republic.
In 1823, early U.S. policymakers declared that the new country would view the efforts of a European nation to
control any independent state in the Americas as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the
United States.” This was called the Monroe Doctrine, in honor of the president who first championed the idea,
Some people wondered about the intentions of such a young nation, and why it was so quick to assume for itself
the role of guardian for all the peoples of North and South America.
Diego Portales, a Chilean statesman and businessman, declared to a friend that “we have to be very careful: for
the Americans of the north [i.e., the United States], the only Americans are themselves.”
It wasn’t too long before the concerns of people like Portales would prove valid. People who think of themselves
as ‘the only real Americans’ have a strange ability to re-interpret their doctrines and values to suit their deepest
By the 1880s, the Monroe Doctrine was deftly re-interpreted by D.C. mover-and-shaker James G. Blaine as the
“Big Sister” policy. Now, the U.S. would serve as a “big sister” to Latin American nations, by serving as their
leader in most matters and by talking them into opening their large markets to U.S. businessmen.
Blaine was Secretary of State for two U.S. presidents: James A. Garfield and Benjamin Harrison.
“We desire,” Blaine wrote, “to extend our commerce, and in an especial degree with our friends and neighbors
on this continent ... No field promises so much. No field has been cultivated so little.”
In reality, the “Big Sister” policy was used “as an active instrument to make the United States dominant over the
[Western] hemisphere,” according to The Forging of the American Empire, an eye-opening history book written
by Sidney Lens.
Blaine himself often admitted as much. In 1881, he tellingly called for a U.S. rejection of any treaty crafted by a
European power which “impeaches our right and long-established claim to priority on the American continent.”
Blaine also joined U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes in declaring that any canal which might connect the
Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans could only exist if it were owned and run by the United States.
In a confidential memo Blaine wrote to a United States official in Hawaii, the creator of the “Big Sister” policy
flatly declared that the U.S. spirit “seeks its outlet in the mines of South America and the railroads of Mexico,”
and added that such a spirit “would not be slow to avail itself of openings of assured and profitable enterprise
even in mid-ocean.”
Such a policy naturally included the island of Cuba. This became obvious during the Spanish-American War.
Cuba had long been controlled by Imperial Spain. By 1895, the people of Cuba were working to overthrow their
Spanish tyrants and finally establish a control of their own destinies.
Then in 1898, the United States Ship (USS) Maine exploded and sank under mysterious circumstances while at
port in Havana harbor. Many in the U.S. felt that Spanish forces were to blame for the sinking of the battleship;
those beliefs led to lawmakers sending Spain an ultimatum that it give up control of Cuba or face war.
Spain responded by declaring war on the U.S., which days later answered with its own declaration of war on
The stated issue was the independence of the Cuban people; but many Americans later admitted that the war
was fought for other reasons.
Theodore Roosevelt - who resigned as Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy to personally fight in the Spanish-
American War - acknowledged in his autobiography why the U.S. actually engaged in the conflict:
“Our own direct interests were great, because of the Cuban tobacco and sugar, and especially because of
Cuba’s relation to the projected Isthmian [Panama] Canal.”
Cuba historian Louis Pérez has pointedly declared that with the Spanish-American War, “a Cuban war of
liberation was transformed into a U.S. war of conquest” which blocked “what was anathema to all North
American policymakers since Thomas Jefferson - Cuban independence.”
Spain surrendered, and the Treaty of Paris was signed on December 10th, 1898.
The Paris treaty allowed Spain to retain its African holdings, but gave the U.S. all of the empire’s other far-flung
colonies - which included Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam.
Cuba was made a U.S. protectorate. The Cuban people had no say in any of this; they were mere observers.
In 1901, that year’s U.S. Army Appropriations Bill contained what was called the Platt Amendment. The
amendment gave Cuba seven stipulations which the country had to fulfill before the U.S. withdrew troops still in
Cuba after the Spanish–American War. It also put forth an eighth stipulation that Cubans humiliate themselves
by signing a treaty which officially accepted those seven demands.
As readers might suspect, two of the stipulations allowed the U.S. to intervene in Cuban affairs as it saw fit, and
a third forced Cuba to lease territory to the United States for the creation of naval bases - which is how America
first obtained possession of Guantanamo Bay.
The Platt Amendment remained official U.S. policy toward Cuba until the 1934 Cuban–American Treaty of
Relations, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed as part of his Good Neighbor Policy with Latin America.
The 1934 treaty declared void the more humiliating stipulations of the Platt Amendment and opened up some
opportunities for Cuban sovereignty.
All the same, the treaty forced Cuba to maintain the Platt Amendment stipulation that all previous U.S. military
actions on the island were to be declared lawful, and modified but essentially continued the demand that Cuba
lease land to the U.S. for a naval base.
Fulgencio Batista was one of those who did well in Cuba after the signing of the 1934 treaty. Swept into power in
1933 as a leader of the Revolt of the Sergeants, Batista - who supported capitalism and was a firm friend of the
U.S. - soon appointed himself head of Cuba’s armed forces and for all practical purposes controlled the island’s
Though eventually he gave up power and moved to the United States, in 1952 Batista returned to Cuba and ran
for president in an apparently free and fair election. When it was clear he was going to lose, Batista spear-
headed a repressive military coup that took and held the country by force.
The United States almost immediately recognized Batista’s coup as a legitimate seizure of power.
Batista quickly befriended the wealthiest Cuban landowners, and he and his cronies set up a repressive
economic system in which they received handsome profits for awarding lucrative commercial contracts to
U.S.-based multi-national corporations. They also made princely sums by making deals with members of the
Such actions predictably created a stagnant economy that did little more for most Cubans than widen the gulf
between the rich few and the poor majority.
The Batista dictatorship continually received military, logistical and financial support from the U.S.
Some Cubans simply had enough of such repression, stagnation and U.S. interference in their affairs. One man
in particular pledged to do all he could to get rid of Batista, and end U.S. imperial actions on his island nation
once and for all.
His name was Fidel Castro.
Like what you're reading so far? Then why not order a full year (52 issues) of The American Spark
e-newsletter for only $15? A major article covering an story not being told in the Corporate Press will be
delivered to your email every Monday morning for a full year, for less than 30 cents an issue. Order Now!
Wait, why does an
independent news source
run advertisements? The
Spark answers in its