The Transformation

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Part 2: The Transformation of Cuba

Under Fidel Castro's newly acquired rule, a great economic and social transformation of Cuba took place. His rule was strengthened through the use of the mass media, the education system, armed forces, and the Socialist Party. Political, social, and economic life were all affected under Castro's new regime. Immediately, the system of racial apartheid was abolished. Many supporters of Batista's regime were arrested or executed. People suspected of antagonism to Castro were arrested. The wealth of the rich was taken and distributed amongst the people. Many wealthy people fled the country.

Castro after the RevolutionCastro had all estates and farms larger than a 1000 acres nationalized, or made the property of the government. All U.S. business and commercial properties in Cuba were nationalized. An estimated two billion dollars of U.S. property was nationalized. Land was then split up and given to peasants and agricultural laborers . After this Agrarian Reform Law, which expropriated Cuba's land, Cuba's relations with the U.S. deteriorated. The U.S. felt that the law offered inadequate compensation for American property owners. U.S. president Eisenhower cancelled Cuba's sugar quota; this was the first commercial sanction by the U.S.. Relations further worsened as Cuba was forced to pursue a closer alliance with the Communist Block.

A free health care system for all Cuban citizens was built. At the time it was superior to any in the third world. A free system of education was also introduced, from primary schools to universities. A huge public works program brought schools, new roads, hospitals, clinics, and electricity to rural parts of Cuba. Cuba was well on its way to becoming a socialist country.

A message to the people
A message to the Cuban people:
"The most sacred duty of this generation
of workers is to consecrate itself
to the development of the country, to think more of
development than of consumption."
-- Fidel Castro

Mass media were employed heavily in communicating to and in shaping the attitudes of the general public. By the middle of 1960, the government had complete dominance over television and radio facilities. Castro would speak on national television for hours at a time, lecturing, explaining, convincing the populace. The newspapers also played a significant role in forming the ideas of the public. Three of the most important newspapers in the early 1960's were Revolución, Noticias de Hoy and El Mundo. A quote from Cuba Socialista  expresses an objective of the revolutionary media:

"... the desire of all the revolutionary leaders, beginning with Fidel Castro, is to transform radio and television into educational instruments through which the masses may be both informed and formed. Each appearance of the revolution is always a lesson in economics, politics, history... with a profound Marxist- Leninist revolutionary meaning...What is sought... is the formation of a new type of intellectual, of socialist man, a conscious actor in the formidable tasks of his time." -- José Antonio Portuondo, "Los intelectuales y la Revolución," Cuba Socialista.

The education system was also changed to support and strengthen Castro's government. 1961 became the " Year of Education" with a campaign to eradicate illiteracy. Over the years the adult literacy rate was raised to 96.1%-- the highest in Latin America, and among the highest in the world. By 1963, however, only 21% of the students in the Provincial Party schools had more than a sixth grade education. Overall, the efficiency of the education system beyond literacy was not considered to be very great in the early years. Political education was essential to provide the public with political consciousness and to prepare them for mass organizations or "mobilization systems," which were federations or associations "for the accomplishment of revolutionary tasks."

Che Guevara with members of the United NationsOne major difference in education was that for the first time, education was distributed equally among rural and urban areas whereas, in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, this type of mobilization was concentrated only in urban areas. So for the first time in Cuban history, full national political participation became possible, along with popular susceptibility to the political appeals of the government. The impact of this drastic change in the education system is quite evident today in Cuba; the level of social awareness and political activism is very high.

The revolution of 1959 had results which were far-reaching in terms of their transformations of Cuban society, the economy, and Cuban-United States relations. The huge gap between rich and poor was abolished. Conditions for the peasant majority, blacks, and mulattos were better than ever before. U.S. relations with Cuba started to rapidly deteriorate, however, when large holding of U.S. businesses were nationalized by the Cuban government. The U.S. response was to establish an embargo of Cuban goods. When Cuba turned to the Soviet Union to balance its trade losses, the relationship between the two countries turned from bad to worse.

Pictures: the commander in chief, Fidel Castro; billboard in rural Cuba; and Che at the United Nations.

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For further information browse these sites:

The Cuban Revolution
Listing of a Castro's speeches
Current Cuban Constitution and Laws
The Stanford poster project


Geoff Simons, Cuba From Conquistador to Castro (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996)
Margot Williams & Josephine McSweeny, Cuba From Columbus To Castro (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1982)
Richard Fagen, Mass Mobilization in Cuba: The Symbolism of Struggle (Board of Editors of the Journal of International Affairs, 1966)
Jorge I. Dominguez, Cuba Order and Revolution (Cambridge & London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1978)
The Cuban Revolution, by Eric Tam
This page was created by the Learning Community team of:
Hazel Frost and Ronald Feichtmeir
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