Latin American Civilization: History and Society, 1492 to the Present

By Benjamin Keen | Go to book overview

20
LATIN AMERICAN ROADS TO SOCIALISM

THE CUBAN REVOLUTION of 1959 marks a dividing line in Latin American history. Before 1959, a capitalist model of development appeared to be the most viable means of escape for Latin America from its age-old backwardness and dependency, with a dynamic middle class leading a process of industrialization and social reform. But by the end of the 1950s these hopes for a capitalist solution for Latin America's problems had dimmed. The experience of such countries as Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, in which capitalism had grown rapidly, suggested that as a rule the new industrial and financial bourgeoisie was as fearful of social change, as prone to encourage foreign economic interests and suppress dissent by violent means, as had been the traditional landed oligarchy. If Cuba's Marxist revolution could succeed where capitalist approaches had failed, sooner or later the revolution's success was bound to have great continental repercussions, particularly as the United States had long avowed that it would not allow a successful socialist, anti-imperialist revolution in its Caribbean backyard, a part of the world that for a century had been a secure U.S. preserve.

The Cuban Revolution did not begin as a socialist revolution. In his famous "History Will Absolve Me" speech, made at his trial after a failed attempt in 1953 to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro offered a program of social reform that was compatible with capitalism and capitalist democracy. But pressure from internal and external enemies -- especially the implacable hostility of the United States -- forced the revolution to move steadily to the left. Denied markets in the United States, Castro negotiated large trade agreements with the Soviet Union and other countries of the socialist community. By 1970 the Cuban Revolution had survived a grave economic crisis largely caused by the leadership's own mistakes, an invasion attempt by Cuban exiles in the United States organized by the

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