Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Havana and Moscow, 1959-2009: The Enduring Relationship?

Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Havana and Moscow, 1959-2009: The Enduring Relationship?

Article excerpt

At their inception following the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Cuban-Soviet relations appeared somewhat unusual because of both me geographical distance between die two countries and die lack of a shared heritage. However, the relationship quickly became vital for the new Cuban regime; but throughout its long duration, the Cuban-Russian relationship has endured several turbulent episodes, not least the implosion of the Soviet Union in December 1991. Notwithstanding this development, in the twenty-first century, the relationship remains significant for both countries, something that Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Havana and Raúl Castro's visit to Moscow in late 2008 and early 2009 demonstrate. A wide variety of reasons and pressures explain the relationship's fifty-year history. The timing of the victory of the Cuban Revolution at the height of the Cold War was important, but quickly other pressures appeared that would also impinge on the relationship for the following thirty years. Reform processes instigated in both countries began to question many of these issues in the late 1980s, with a number of issues simply vanishing with the end of the Cuban-Soviet Russian relationship. However, others did not; and as the 1990s progressed, not only did new issues evolve but also, remarkably, others that had disappeared remerged, though at reduced levels, to again have an impact on the relationship. Now that the Cuban Revolution has celebrated its fiftieth anniversary and relations between Havana and Moscow are half a century old, the relationship does have an enduring quality.

The Cold War Setting

Cuban-U.S. relations from the time of Cuban independence to the victory of the Cuban Revolution were vital for the relationship that would develop between Havana and Moscow after 1959. Washington had dominated the island both politically and economically, and altiiough it was unclear what type of revolution had taken place in Cuba, there was certainty diat the new Cuban regime wished its relationship with the United States to be dramatically altered. The importance of nationalism to the revolution and the fact diat Ernesto "Che" Guevara had witnessed the overthrow of the progressive government of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala in 1954 by American-backed exiles diminished die lUcelihood of cordial Cuban-U.S. relations still further. Fidel Castro would later comment: "We would not in any event have ended up as close friends. The U.S. had dominated us for too long."1

Furthermore, the United States quickly decided that the Cuban Revolution could not be allowed to run its course and that the new regime should be removed from power, a decision that eventually led to the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in April 1961. This course of action resulted not just from fears over American economic investments in the island and disapproval at what Washington perceived as the summary executions of old regime officials. It also developed from the Cold War setting in which these events played out- at the time it appeared that Washington was losing the Cold War. China had turned communist a mere ten years previous, and in light of the reorientation of Soviet foreign policy in the aftermath of Joseph Stalin's death, concerns abounded that the Cuban Revolution was the forerunner to further communist penetration of Latin America.2

As a result, it was always unlikely that a close relationship between revolutionary Havana and Washington would develop, but the fact that these events took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s at the height of the Cold War was vital for the inception of Cuban-Soviet relations. Because Soviet-U.S. rivalry had produced bipolar international politics, if Cuba did not join the U.S. camp, it would have to enter the Soviet one.

Havana was drawn toward Moscow for reasons apart from the role of Washington and the bipolar nature of international relations. Many countries in the developing world that had newly gained their independence were attracted to Moscow because the Soviet development model from the 1930s had brought about rapid modernization and industrialization; and in the Western Hemisphere, Russia lacked a colonial past in the traditional sense, unlike other European powers like France, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom, among others. …

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