Throughout the history of Cuba, government corruption and economic inequality have necessitated major political protest. Among the most significant of these protests was the Cuban Revolution. This uprising, led by Fidel Castro, succeeded in overthrowing the previous government and seizing control of Cuba. The American Mafia played a significant role leading up to the Cuban Revolution as they used their entertainment venues in Havana to fund and facilitate much of their criminal activity. Because of Cuba’s heavy economic dependence on their sugar industry, the vast majority of the population lived in poverty under Batista’s rule. The United States also further necessitated the revolution as they began to dominate the Cuban economy through their investments. Castro’s promise to rectify these issues was pivotal for gaining the peoples support for his revolution.
By the 1950’s, the American Mafia had established many of Havana’s most luxurious nightclubs, casinos, theatres and restaurants. This caused Cuba to become a major holiday destination for wealthy Americans and the tourism industry within Cuba became massively profitable as a result, (Wild, 2017). According to Louis Perez, a Cuba historian at the University of North Carolina, "Havana was then what Las Vegas has become” (Smithsonian, 2017). Because the revenue generated by the Mafia’s facilities was not taxed by the government, the tourism industry as a whole provided no benefit for the Cuban people. Fulgencio Batista’s government was also one rife with corruption; frequent bribing of government officials granted the Mafia the ability to act almost completely outside of the formal institutions that would have otherwise limited the extent of their criminal activities. Batista had also interacted with the Mafia years before serving as Cuban president. Some evidence suggests that Batista had been taking financial cuts from Mafia operations as far back as the 1930s (Aljazeera.com, 2017). If Batista had stayed in power and his government’s corruption remained unchecked, the full scope of the Mafia’s vision may have been felt; a vast criminal empire, ran largely from Havana but spanning the entire globe. As it was, the Mafia only furthered support for the revolution as they worsened Cuba’s national identity through popularization of gambling and prostitution. Many hotels and casinos in Havana also enforced race segregation; Fulgencio Batista was even denied entry to one of Havana’s most exclusive clubs due to his biracial heritage (Pbs.org, 2017). Fidel Castro likely considered this industry a key factor in Cuba’s decline; almost immediately after overthrowing Batista’s government and becoming president, Castro closed all of Havana’s casinos and made prostitution illegal.
Cuba obviously couldn’t sustain its economy on the tourism industry alone. Sugar exportation was even more economically crucial. During the 1940s, 80% of the United States’ sugar was imported from Cuba (South China Morning Post, 2017). Lack of outside regulation also meant that mill and plantation owners could accumulate major wealth through under-handed practices and exploitation of their workers. Regardless, Cuba’s sugar workers were considered some of the highest paid agricultural workers across Latin-America. This is a misleading statement, however; the rest of Latin-America, at the time, was known for slavery, harsh inequality and unliveable wages. Cuba’s workers were highly paid by comparison, but still only made around 3 US dollars a day (Anon, 2017). Sugar production is also seasonal and as such only provides work for four months of the year. These workers were too poor to buy land in order to farm their own food or sell their produce. Poverty soon became widespread throughout rural Cuba. During the off season, sugar harvesters lived in perpetual debt, hunger and malnutrition (Pbs.org, 2017). Their inability to buy land rendered their farming skills useless and their lack of wealth bordered them from achieving better work through higher education. A large amount of Cuba’s rural population were also completely illiterate as a result of this. Keeping these facts in mind, it’s easy to see why Fidel Castro gained most of his initial support from the rural areas in Cuba. The consequences of Cuba’s sugar-reliant economy were felt far harder in Cuba’s rural areas than in its cities.
The United States inadvertently built support for the revolution due to their stranglehold on the Cuban economy. However, fault still lies with the Cuban government for creating those circumstances in the first place. In particular, basing almost the entire Cuban economy on a single commodity (sugar) prevented Cuba from competing in the international market. This also forced Cuba to rely, almost entirely, on the United States buying their sugar. Cuba’s dependence on the United States also stemmed beyond economics; around half of all the food Cubans consumed was imported from the United States (Ltd., 2017). The Platt Amendment, signed following the end of the Spanish-American war, allowed the United States to buy Cuban land and utilise it for their own benefit. By the late 1950s, the United States owned 80% of Cuba’s public utilities, 90% of mining operations, 50% of railways and 40% of sugar production (Smithsonian, 2017). The United States held large, or majority, stakes in all of Cuba’s most valuable resources. This highlights one of the most significant issues within Cuba, not only leading up to the Revolution, but throughout most of Cuba’s history as well. The country consistently fails to gain economic independence. Although the consequences of financial dependence on other nations were debatably at their most dire for Cuba following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, they are still very much present leading up to the revolution.
The Cuban Revolution occurred as a result of many factors. The Mafia popularized gambling and prostitution, pushing Cuba as an American tourist destination while simultaneously using their venues as a front for organized crime. Economic reliance on the sugar industry caused widespread poverty across rural Cuba and forced sugar workers into perpetual suffering. The United States bought major stakes in Cuban industries which further weakened the Cuban economy. Fidel Castro’s promise to rectify these major issues are what ultimately won him the people’s support and allowed him to succeed Fulgencio Batista as president of Cuba.