Fidel Castro, My Life:
A Spoken Autobiography
- Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramone
With the end of the revolutionary war a new set of problems immediately surfaced. During the war, Fidel counted with up to 90% of the island's population supporting him. But their embrace of his cause was as much a dislike for Batista and his corrupt government as it was a tacit agreement on the policies and procedures that Fidel and his 26th of July Movement presented. Fidel had always stated that he had no interest in becoming Cuba's first independent president. Once the war was over, the task of the group to choose a leader resulted in the choice of anti-Batista magistrate, Miguel Urrutia, someone who had not been directly associated with the rebel Army.
But even from within the movement, there were bourgeois elements that were against many of the reforms the group had committed to during their fight. There was a large anti-Communist section of the group that distrusted everyone on the left, even though they had fought side by side just days and weeks earlier. Many kept their prior sectarian and prejudiced policies even while great reform was taking place. At the same time, many on the left were acting in similar fashion. Anibal Escalante, secretary of the Communist Party in Cuba, spoke passionately about the desires of their party, even if it was to be at the expense of the country as a whole. Fidel finally had to step in and denounce those policies in order to keep unity and focus on the real goal of the war, a free and independent Cuba.
One of the first orders of business was to bring to trial those members of Batista's own government who had committed despicable acts of horror against the citizens of Cuba. This had been promised during the war campaign and was to be one of the first accomplishments of the new regime. Unfortunately, in the beginning, many of these trials took place in the open and in very public places such as sports arenas. Even though the trials were conducted within proper judicial guidelines, the fact that it was in such public places allowed other groups, such as the United States, to exploit the situation and exaggerate the propensity. And even if the very worst cases of violence and murder were given sentences of death, the same public that demanded such action would often turn against their own decision when it actually came time to carry out the sentence proscribed. In the end, public trials were stopped and very few were actually given and received the death penalty.
Among the many false accusations about the early times of the Castro regime was the supposed detention and imprisonment of homosexuals. This Fidel categorically denied. During the early years, and with the constant threat of foreign invasion from the US, which actually occurred in April, 1961, military service was obligatory. Yet, three specific groups were excluded from serving, the poorly educated, the religious and conscientious objectioners, and the homosexuals. The first group was needed to help maintain production of key segments of industry, the second group was excluded by definition, and the third group was kept from joining due to the unnecessary complications that their presence would create within the ranks of the military.
However, these groups were given the opportunity to serve in the newly created Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción, UMAPs (Military Units to Aid Production). These had nothing to do with internment camps. They were necessary groups that aided agriculture and production across the country. Though it is true that abuses occurred in some areas where homosexuals were particularly persecuted, Fidel demanded investigations of every known incident with the understanding that it was unacceptable policy of the government. Nevertheless, in a culture which proclaims to have machismo as one of its pillars, the hatred for homosexuals can be long and deep, causing problems long after officiasl policy has been instituted. Prejudices against homosexuals as well as women, Blacks and others are hard to change, but nevertheless, must be in order for the revolution to succeed. Even today, remnants of such prejudices exist and must be eradicated.
Another prejudice and lie, this time from the US, was called Operation Peter Pan. This CIA operation from the early 1960s falsely accused the Castro government of separating children from their middle-class parents and sending them to forced teaching in the Soviet Union. Some of the rumors even stated that the children were to be chopped up and put into small tin containers to be shipped back to Cuba. Thousands of families reacted and sent around 14,000 children to the US as a result. Of course, nothing of the sort ever happened, but at the time the regime was brand new and rumors were rife with false accusations.
But for an island whose citizens had an overall educational level of no more than the sixth grade, we have made many strides. Illiteracy is a thing of the past and there are great professionals in the engineering fields, the medicinal fields as well as the educational fields. We are also preparing 30,000 art teachers in over 15 art schools to boost that area across the country. Cuba now possesses a health care system that is overall better than the American one. The many stygmas of the past, illiteracy, poor education, abject poverty and no social safety net to help those who struggle can now only be seen in Cuba's history books. There are no homeless, no one without health care, no one who claims illiteracy, and no one who falls through the government's social safety net.