From Resistance to Revolution: The Struggle for Control of the Cuban Olympic Committee, 1953-1964

Article excerpt


The history of sport in Cuba is often partitioned between two phases, not merely for the convenience of the historian, but mainly because there is such a clear demarcation line--sport before 1959, enjoyed by the rich, limited for the poor, and sport after 1959, when it was caught in the combustible events of the Cuban revolution, and welded to a new political culture. By following the fortunes of the Cuban Olympic Committee (COC) and the attempts by successive regimes to place it under government control, this study will seek to illustrate the difference between Cuban sport either side of the revolutionary break, and examine the events of the difficult interface period. The first annexation of the COC, by Fulgencio Batista's government, took place from 1953-54; the second, by Fidel Castro's revolutionary leadership, began in 1961, and was finalized in 1964. The Batista government was only partly successful; Castro's seizure was complete. To capture why Castro's representatives succeeded so fully in controlling the COC, it will be contrasted with the relative failure of Batista's government.

The vast majority of material gathered for this examination was found in the Avery Brundage Collection. For the period in focus, Brundage was in the first half of his tenure as President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). From his correspondence with members of the COC and other sporting administrators, it was possible to get a partial, yet significant, insight into the COC's struggle. Apart from Brundage, Dr. Miguel A. Moenck holds the attention of the study more than any other individual. Moenck was prominent in both the regulation and administration of the COC. It will be shown how Moencks' obdurate adherence to IOC rules was primarily responsible for the COC resistance to the Batista government; and why the ability of Castro's government to prevent Moenck from attending IOC meetings, or keep regular correspondence with Brundage, smoothed the way for its own success.

The First Take-over of the COC

After Cuba became a republic in 1902, the democracy it sought proved elusive. The passing decades left its citizens weary of mostly inept leaders who stole from those whom they promised to serve. Some abused the electoral system; most corrupted the administration. (1) The prospect of change awaited in the form of elections scheduled for 1 June 1952. (2) That democratic candle was extinguished. On 10 March 1952, the people watched and helplessly endured the military coup of Fulgencio Batista. The rights of the people withered, their vote became useless. (3) There was no serious challenge to the coup. Without any opposition of strength or coherence to remove Batista, a group of young revolutionaries grasped the mantle of their revolutionary forefathers. Led by Fidel Castro, they attacked the Moncada Military barracks in Santiago on 26 July 1953. The audacious putsch failed. Batista's army anticipated the attack, executed some of the perpetrators, and threw others, including Castro, in jail. (4) Castro's subsequent pardon in 1955 would change the course of Cuban history, but from 1952 until 1 January 1959, Cuba was Batista's.

After the close of the 1953 IOC Session in Mexico, Dr. Miguel A. Moenck returned home to Cuba a proud man. He had been elected to the IOC Executive Committee, the first Latin American to earn the distinction. It was, he said, "a great honor for Latin America." (5) Born in 1891, Moenck was an architect by trade and taught on the subject at the University of Havana. (6) The development of sport in Cuba owed him much. Apart from winning national championships in the 400m and 800m, he founded the Union of Amateur Athletics (UAA) in Cuba in 1913, and subsequently performed a variety of administrative positions in Cuban sport. (7) Moenck was also an IOC member of some repute; both able and reliable. He was co-opted to the IOC in 1938. (8) Moenck was a trusted link to Latin America for the IOC President, Avery Brundage, and the pair shared a cooperative and friendly relationship. …