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Vol. 74/No. 29      August 2, 2010

How Cuban Revolution
transformed workers’ lives
(Books of the Month column)
Below is an excerpt from To Speak the Truth: Why Washington’s ‘Cold War’ against Cuba Doesn’t End, by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for July. In September 1960, Castro addressed the UN General Assembly. Parts of his speech are printed below. This period marked a turning point for the Cuban Revolution. Tens of thousands of working people were occupying fields and factories and mobilizing in the streets as property of imperialist-owned banks and industries in Cuba along with the largest holdings of Cuba’s capitalist owners were nationalized, becoming the property of the Cuban people. Copyright © 1992 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

When the revolution came to power, what did it find? What “marvels” did the revolution find when it came to power in Cuba? First of all, the revolution found that 600,000 Cubans, able and ready to work, were unemployed—as many, proportionally, as were jobless in the United States during the Great Depression that shook this country, and which almost produced a catastrophe here. This is what we confronted in my country—permanent unemployment. Three million out of a population of a little more than six million had no electricity, possessing none of its advantages and comforts. Three and a half million out of a total population of a little more than six million lived in huts, in shacks, and in slums, without the most minimal sanitary facilities. In the cities, rents took almost one-third of family income. Electricity rates and rents were among the highest in the world.

Some 37.5 percent of our population were illiterate; 70 percent of the rural children lacked teachers; 2 percent of our population suffered from tuberculosis—that is to say, 100,000 persons out of a little more than six million. Ninety-five percent of the children in rural areas suffered from parasites. Infant mortality was astronomical. Life expectancy was very low. On the other hand, 85 percent of the small farmers were paying rent on their land of up to 30 percent of their gross income, while 1.5 percent of the landowners controlled 46 percent of the total area of the country. Of course, the proportion of hospital beds to the number of inhabitants was ridiculously low compared with countries that have even halfway decent medical services.

Public services, the electricity and telephone companies, all belonged to U.S. monopolies. A major portion of banking, importing, and oil refining; the majority of sugar production; the best land; and the most important industries in all fields in Cuba belonged to U.S. companies.

The balance of payments in the last ten years, from 1950 to 1960, has been favorable to the United States vis--vis Cuba to the extent of $1 billion. This is without taking into account the hundreds of millions of dollars extracted from the public treasury by the corrupt officials of the dictatorship and later deposited in U.S. or European banks. One billion dollars in ten years! This poor and underdeveloped Caribbean country with 600,000 unemployed was contributing to the economic development of the most economically developed country in the world!

This was the situation that confronted us. Yet it should not surprise many of the countries represented in this assembly. For what we have said about Cuba is but an X-ray view that could be applied to many of the countries represented here… .

The revolutionary government began to take its first steps. The first was a 50 percent reduction in rents paid by families. This was a very just measure since, as I said earlier, there were families paying up to one-third of their income for rent. The people had been the victims of housing speculation; urban real estate had also been subject to speculation, to the detriment of the entire Cuban people. But when the revolutionary government reduced rents by 50 percent, there were those who were considerably upset; yes, a few who owned the buildings and apartment houses were upset. But the people rushed into the streets rejoicing, as they would in any country—even here in New York—if rents were reduced by 50 percent for all families. But it caused no problems with the monopolies. Some of the U.S. companies owned large buildings, but they were relatively few in number.

Then another law was passed, a law cancelling the concessions that had been granted by the Batista dictatorship to the telephone company, which was a U.S. monopoly. Aided by having a population without means to defend itself, valuable concessions had been obtained. The revolutionary government cancelled those concessions and reestablished the prices for telephone services that had existed previously. This was the first conflict with the U.S. monopolies.

The third measure was the reduction of electricity rates, which had been among the highest in the world. This led to the second conflict with the U.S. monopolies. Already they were beginning to paint us as Reds, simply because we had clashed with the interests of the U.S. monopolies.

Then came another law, an essential law, an inevitable law—inevitable for the Cuban people and inevitable, sooner or later, for all the peoples of the world, at least those who have not done so. This was the Agrarian Reform Law.1 Naturally, everybody agrees with agrarian reform in theory. Nobody would dare to deny it; nobody except an ignoramus would dare to deny that agrarian reform in the underdeveloped countries of the world is one of the essential conditions for economic development.

1. In adopting the Agrarian Reform Law of May 17, 1959, the new revolutionary government made good on what had been one of the central promises of the July 26 Movement and Rebel Army. A limit of 30 caballerías (approximately 1,000 acres) was set on individual landholdings. Implementation of the law resulted in the confiscation of the vast estates and sugar plantations in Cuba—many of them owned by U.S. companies; this land passed into the hands of the new government. The law granted sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and squatters deeds to the land they tilled. A second agrarian reform law, enacted October 4, 1963, set a maximum limit on holdings of 167 acres.

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