The 1959 Cuban Revolution, the revolution’s subsequent strengthening, and the radical change that the process underwent beginning in 1961 marked a turning point in the history of Latin America. It implied the largest and most consistent regional challenge faced by the United States in an area where its influence had often been decisive. From then on, the Latin American Cold War intensified at every level. It was no longer about the “reactive” actions that took place among the conservative Latin American elite via the communism inspired by distant Moscow.
In Cuba, the culture of the “revolution” was established, and the consequences were far from mere symbolism: Cubans also launched actions of “alternative diplomacy” to lend institutional support to the Latin American guerrilla movements. However, there is no documented study on Cuba’s role in Latin America. This is explicable in large part by the secrecy with which the Caribbean isle has made archival research in the country impossible.
Although this secrecy is understandable in view of its nature as a heavily beleaguered revolution from abroad, this culture of secrecy contributed to expanding a production of journalistic and essay-based denunciation that habitually lacked rigor and interpretive frameworks. Since 2010, a certain spirit of openness has existed in the matter, an example of which is purported to be linked to the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose historical repository has slowly begun to receive researchers, principally from abroad.
Drawing upon the anxiety and curiosity of the international historiographic community about the images originating from Havana, an initial approach and investigation was carried out in the aforementioned tradition, with the aim of shedding light on several of the actions deployed by the Cuban Embassy in Uruguay during the initial and intense years of the Caribbean revolution.
Eric Paul Roorda
After more than a century of sporadic immigration from the island of Cuba to the United States, the trajectory of the diaspora accelerated steeply, beginning with Fidel Castro coming to power in 1959. In the ensuing years, as bilateral relations between the Communist regime in Havana and the administrations of President Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy soured and the exodus of upper-class, then middle-class, Cubans increased until Castro clamped down on it. Thereafter, the pace of departures became episodic, involving mainly working-class people, and their nature turned increasingly desperate. Three major immigration events punctuated the next 30 years: in 1965 from the port of Camarioca, in 1980 from the bay city of Mariel, and, again in 1994, a more general wave of flight that also heavily involved the port of Mariel. These bursts of seaborne migration came against a backdrop of constant, low-level, individual efforts to flee adverse circumstances in Castro’s Cuba. These include manifold political pressures, with opponents of the regime and cultural nonconformists alike facing harassment and imprisonment; as well as other severe economic challenges, with food scarcity, fuel shortages, and unreliable electric power making daily life difficult for the vast majority of Cuban citizens.
U.S. opposition to Castro has taken many forms, beginning with economic sanctions. A complete break in relations followed in early 1961, an invasion attempt at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, and, later, a Central Intelligence Agency–sponsored campaign of terrorist attacks and assassination attempts code-named Operation Mongoose. Since the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, a nearly complete embargo has prevented any sort of trade or tourism. In response to the influx of new Cuban arrivals, U.S. policy toward the immigrants themselves altered radically, facilitating their arrival and assimilation as political refugees until August 1994, then actively preventing their entry as economic refugees, until this writing.
Francisco de Miranda (March 28, 1750, Caracas, Venezuela—July 14, 1816, La Carraca, Spain) was a Spanish American revolutionary who after a career in the Spanish Army from 1783 devoted his life to the cause of Spanish American independence. The various designs of Miranda in the 1780s–1800s were founded upon the idea of a military liberation expedition to Spanish America led by him and organized with the support of a power (Great Britain, United States, France) in conflict with Spain that would then foment existing discontent and lead to a wide-scale revolt and independence. Though these plans failed, as did his attempt to organize an expedition from New York without the support of any power (1805–1807), in 1810 the revolution in Spanish America started without his participation as a consequence of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. Miranda was called to Caracas and eventually led the short-lived First Venezuelan Republic in 1812. After its defeat he spent the last years of his life in Spanish jails. Miranda’s failure influenced the South American revolutionaries who adopted the tactics of unconditional warfare against the Spanish troops from 1813.
A shrewd and sophisticated expert in world affairs and political intrigues and an acclaimed military commander, Miranda was persistently trying to use the conflicts between great powers to achieve his goal though he knew that these powers’ leaders were eager to use him as a trump card against the Spanish Empire in their geopolitical games. His contacts ranged from US Founding Fathers, British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and Viscount Melville to the Prussian king Friedrich II and the Russian empress Catherine II. He was a respected peer in the high society of the European “republic of letters” in the Age of Enlightenment. In the United States his friends belonged to the Federalist Party, which represents an interesting phenomenon since Federalists are usually viewed as being generally skeptical toward foreign revolutions. In Spanish America Miranda’s ideas received no support until 1810–1812, as his failed expedition clearly shows—this is an excellent example of the interplay between “evental history” (histoire évenémentielle) and the longue durée, demonstrating how fast and unpredictable radical historical change may be. In spite of this long political solitude, Miranda entered the Spanish American symbolic pantheon as the precursor of independence.
Spain entered the Age of Atlantic Revolutions (1775–1825) motivated by a desire to re-establish its traditional status as a major European power, a position that its Habsburg monarchs gradually had relinquished over the course of the 17th century and that was lost in dramatic fashion during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1713). Over the first six decades of the 18th century, the newly installed Bourbon dynasty launched a series of administrative, military, clerical, and economic reforms designed to spark and then protect an imperial revival. As a regular participant in the colonial wars of the period, the Spanish crown relied heavily on military strength to signify its renewed standing vis-à-vis its international adversaries. Any gains won by force of arms also needed to be confirmed by treaty and reinforced by positive peacetime relationships with these same rivals. As a result, an assertive diplomacy played an important role in promoting Spanish interests during a tumultuous era that began with great hopes for the restoration of Spain’s historic preeminence in the Atlantic World but ended with the collapse of its American empire.
Thomas C. Field Jr.
The Cold War in Latin America had marked consequences for the region’s political and economic evolution. From the origins of US fears of Latin American Communism in the early 20th century to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, regional actors played central roles in the drama. Seeking to maximize economic benefit while maintaining independence with regard to foreign policy, Latin Americans employed an eclectic combination of liberal and anti-imperialist discourses, balancing frequent calls for anti-Communist hemispheric unity with periodic diplomatic entreaties to the Soviet bloc and the nonaligned Third World. Meanwhile, US Cold War policies toward the region ranged from progressive developmentalism to outright military invasions, and from psychological warfare to covert paramilitary action. Above all, the United States sought to shore up its allies and maintain the Western Hemisphere as a united front against extra-hemispheric ideologies and influence. The Cold War was a bloody, violent period for Latin America, but it was also one marked by heady idealism, courageous political action, and fresh narratives about Latin America’s role in the world, all of which continue to inform regional politics to this day.