Front Door to Cuba Front Door to Cuban History

Excerpts from:
SARTRE ON CUBA

Jean-Paul Sartre
© 1961

From Chapter 2 – The Granma Brings Revolution

Book cover: Sartre on Cuba

What surprises me here is that the troubles began so abruptly. Nothing announced them, not the slightest visible catastrophe. Four years earlier a coup d’etat had brought Batista to power. Few people had protested—they were resigned to the dictatorship by disgust with their prattling and corrupt assemblies.

One day, all the same, July 26, 1953, a young lawyer, Fidel Castro, launched an attack on the Moncada barracks with a handful of comrades. But he was taken, imprisoned, condemned. Public opinion did not give him much support. “Who is this blusterer? There’s an escapade for you! And which leads to nothing. If Batista were angry he would have taken it out on us!”

The opposition parties were quick to blame this rash man who had failed. The Cuban Communist Party spoke of adventurism. The Authentic Party threw up their hands; the Orthodox Party was more severe. Castro was a member of it when he attempted his coup.

“We need a left wing,’ said all these mature and reflective men. “It carries the hopes of the country. On his side, by demagoguery, in order to persuade America that there is freedom of opinion in Cuba, the President tolerates it on condition that it doesn’t so much as raise a little finger. very well! Let’s do nothing except be here. Time is working for us! But we don’t need an irresponsible kid to risk breaking this equilibrium by an escapade.”

Silence fell again on the island.

From Chapter 3 – The Sugar Quota

Cuba was barely leaving the feudal era when, in 1895, she took up arms against the mother country. The “great Spanish-Cuban war” was not simply an anti-colonialist insurrection. The country wanted to revise its outmoded structures, to bring about, one hundred years late, its bourgeois revolution, and to found its civil liberties on economic liberalism—the rights of the citizen over those of the landowner, a modest but effectual industry: transformation, finishing; at the end of the operation, the light cavalry of products of consumption.

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They had taken up arms at the wrong time. They fought against the moth-eaten colonialism of Spain at the time when the real masters of the world were entering, one after the other, a severe crisis of imperialism.

Men in frock coats and the military in uniform met around maps and divided the world with strokes of the pencil. The U.S.A. couldn’t escape it. The growth of production disturbed U.S. capitalists: they needed markets for their surplus products, safe investments for their surplus capital.

The Monroe Doctrine changed its meaning. Originally it was the definition of a policy. On December 2, 1823, the President of the United States published a message claiming “America for Americans.” The United States, said he, would not interfere with the affairs of Europe, but Europe must no longer consider America as a land of defensive and peaceful colonization. America belongs to Americans, nothing more, nothing less. Toward 1900, a gang of businessmen and politicians translated this principle into a new language. It now read: “South America belongs to North America.”

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Theodore Roosevelt was not yet President of the United States. Like our Jules Ferry, * he made himself the doctrinaire of colonization. His letters leave no doubt about his thought. The U.S. A., according to him, had only one means of reinvesting its surplus capital; pour it into the new countries of the other Americas and particularly Cuba, whose sugar beckoned.

* Jules Francois Ferry (1832-1893), premier of France 1880-81 and 1883-85. His vigorous colonial policy extended French possessions in Africa and Asia.

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They stayed there four years—time to establish their terms. When they finally ceded Cuba to its inhabitants—that was in 1903—they had neglected nothing in order to make of the newborn nation a future monster, equal to the geese of Strasbourg, who die slowly in the pains of a too delicious liver.

They had even foreseen the jots and convulsions. The Platt Amendment, added to the army appropriation bill of 1901, gave to the liberators the right to return in case of trouble—that is to say, whenever it pleased them—and to liberate their Cuban brothers as often as might be necessary.

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Produced in superabundance, sugar cane became the key factor of the Cuban economy. Other crops were overwhelmed, disappeared, or were never planted. Those which resisted were confined to the narrowest limits. The sugar industry developed to the detriment of the other industries.

Consider the luck of imperialism. By the very game of economic domination it creates among the oppressed needs which the oppressor alone is able to satisfy. The diabetic island, ravaged by the proliferation of a single vegetable, lost all hope for self-sufficiency.

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Was it necessary to fight against Spain for so long only to find oneself again facing a single, all-powerful customer?

Sartre 1 of 2

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