An Assessment of the Cuban Revolution

Isobel Egan, Dickson College, 2011

This essay was submitted as part of the Revolutions in the Modern World unit at Dickson College, Semester 1, 2011. It was written in response to the self-devised focus statement: “The Cuban Revolution saw dictator Fulgencio Batista replaced by Fidel Castro. Analyse whether this was a positive change.” Isobel Egan has also contributed The Rape of Nanking to Clio.

In 1959, the Cuban Revolution saw dictator Fulgencio Batista replaced by the socialist Fidel Castro. Although Castro’s communist regime has been highly criticised, an analysis of the country both before and after the revolution reveals that quality of life improved under Castro for the majority of Cubans. There are four main criteria on which to assess this, these being education, healthcare, governance and the economy. By comparing the performance of these four vital factors both before the revolution, under Batista’s rule and after the revolution, under Castro, it can be seen that the Cuban Revolution resulted in a positive change for the Cuban people.

This photo was taken on March 5, 1960, in Havana, Cuba, at a memorial service march for victims of the La Coubre explosion. On the far left of the photo is Fidel Castro, while in the center is Che Guevara.

Education is perhaps the clearest example of this change. While the education system in Cuba was greatly improved by Batista during his presidency, his efforts are far outstripped by those of Castro following the revolution (Serra, 2007). During the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, when Batista was both President and Chief of the Armed Forces, he created the rural schools system (Latin American Studies, 1997). Acknowledging that those living in rural areas were isolated from educational opportunities, he oversaw the establishment of approximately 1300 schooling facilities. This program assisted in raising the Cuban literacy rate from approximately 72 percent in 1931 to 76 percent in 1958 (World Research Institute, 2006). There is evidence, however, that there were ulterior motives behind its creation. The program was funded and run by the military and these schools were concentrated in areas where support for communism was strong, enabling Batista to use this military influence to pacify the rural populations. (Johnston, 1995). Another problem with Batista’s education system was discrimination. “Cuban society in the 1950s was deeply stratified by race [and] class… Afro-Cubans...had unequal access to education” (Klouzal, 1997). In fact, at many schools, only those with “white skin” were allowed places. Both public and private school sectors demanded high fees that many could not afford to pay. The school system subsequently “…provided strikingly unequal educational opportunities to students according to their socio-economic status” (Mesa-Lago, p. 385). “For Cuba's…poor, the completion of even primary education became an increasingly remote dream.” (Johnston, 1995).

When Castro came to power in 1959, he put an emphasis on improving education nationwide and over the following few years he transformed the education system. In 1958, the public sector consisted of 7567 primary schools, 17, 355 teachers and 717, 417 students (p. 185, MacEwan, 1981). Data from 1962 shows that there had been an increase of 6213 public primary schools, 19, 258 teachers and 489, 869 students. (p. 185, MacEwan, 1981). This expansion of the education system meant that by the mid 1960s the literacy rate had risen from 70 to 90 percent and in 2009 had reached 99.8 percent, dramatically higher than any other Latin-American nation. Playing a significant role in these successes was the elimination of both racism and classism. Firstly, Castro: "...launched a set of reforms intended to eliminate racial disparity in education... The government’s great achievements in extending education…to all Cubans have narrowed racial disparities in... matriculation rates." (Glassman, 2011). To address discrimination on the basis of class, Castro banned private education. He devoted adequate government funding to make education free for all. Article 51 of the 1976 Cuban constitution demonstrates the education philosophy Castro employed: "Everybody has a right to education. This right is guaranteed by the extensive and free system of schools... by the free provision of school materials to every child and young person regardless of the economic situation of the family." (Constitution Net, 2010). These changes in the education sector are evidence of fair and equal educational opportunities and when education under Castro is compared with that under Batista, it can be seen that this change was indeed a positive outcome of the revolution.

The next major criterion for determining whether the revolution created positive change is the state of the health care system. Health care in Cuba while Batista was in power was very limited. Although he claimed that " of his goals in forcibly seizing control of the Cuban state was to rescue Cuban health from the hands of the corrupt Autenticos [anti-liberals]" (Hirschfeld, p. 199), there were in fact huge discrepancies between the public and private health care systems. A report by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development issued in 1950 stated that: "...while the private health sector in Cuba appeared adequate, the public health sector continues to suffer from neglect and mismanagement." (Hirschfeld. p. 196). As with the education sector under Batista, discrimination based on class affected the quality of health care available. It came to be believed that Batista’s earlier claims were simply "traditional health propaganda" (Herschfeld, p. 199).

Related Article: Education Under Castro
In 1959, when Castro came to power, he transformed the health care system. Firstly, Castro geographically reorganised facilities all over the country. "In 1961, all health and health care institutions were joined together...[and] provided a network organized along...a horizontal, geographical axis extending from the nation, the province, the municipalities." (Maria de Gordon, 2002). This effectively extended health care opportunities to the entire Cuban population (Maria, de Gordon, 2002). Secondly, Castro made health care free, assigning significant government funding. "In the early 1960's the budget was increased by more than four-fold in amount... compared to the 1958 health budget" (Maria, de Gordon, 2002). This eradicated the class barriers in place under the Batista regime, continuing Castro’s goal of eliminating class-based discrimination. Further evidence supporting the success of the health system’s transformation can be found in comparing statistics. In 1958 the Cuban infant mortality rate was 13th highest globally (US Department of State, 2008). This is compared to statistics gathered in 2009 which measured the Cuban infant mortality rate to be 6 per 1000 live births, one of the lowest in the world (World Health Organization). It is commonly held that “The Cuban health system under the Castro regime is … one of the major achievements of the revolution” (Maria, de Gordon, 2002). Unarguably, health care is an area in which positive change was achieved by the Cuban revolution.

To further this analysis, an assessment of good governance, the third criterion, needs to be made. Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro were both dictators, ruling with total power and obtaining authority by force. The question of whether one dictatorship was more beneficial for Cuba involves examining both government probity and political liberty. The Batista government was extremely corrupt, as demonstrated by numerous factors, including the rise in organized crime during the years he was in power. Batista gained the support of the US government, being “… well liked by American interests, who feared Grau's liberal social and economic revolution and saw him [Batista] as a stabilizing force with respect for American interests.” (Sierra, 1993). This relationship assisted Batista in forging strong ties with powerful members of the US Mafia. (Sierra. 1993). From these alliances, organized crime in Cuba grew dramatically and during Batista’s rule, "... organized crime, gambling, [and] corruption… prevailed in Cuba at the expense of public welfare and development [of], for example, education [and] health care" Cuba Socialista, 2006). Bribery was prevalent, and "... prostitution …became prolific since brothels and prostitutes could easily seek support and protection from the Cuban government via bribery." (Havana Guide, 2006). This wide-spread corruption led to economic instability and inequality between the political leaders and the general population. "During the dictatorship of Batista, it became obvious that the economy was in a downward spiral. The poor people only suffered more, and the leaders, specifically the dictator himself, became extremely rich. Living conditions were third world for the common Cuban citizen..." (Cuba Socialista, 2006). Political liberty is the second factor to be addressed in assessing Batista as a dictator. During the years he was in power "... many of Batista's enemies faced [execution]... Others just seemed to disappear into thin air." (Sierra, 1993). His political opponents either disappeared or were killed by Batista’s private police force. "In several cases, teachers who worked to alphabetize rural villages were tortured and killed by Batista’s private police force, for fear that a literate population of farmers would be more likely to favour local land ownership, and oppose the dictator." (Braken, 2002). At the end of Batista’s rule corruption and political oppression had reached such extremes it has been said that he had "... created an open invitation to revolution" (Kling, 1962).

Castro’s revolutionary government was not itself free from these problems. In terms of government probity, some believe that in enforcing socialism. "The government took everything from everyone. It [the government] led the people to believe that the state was protecting them against imperialism and the selfishness of capitalism. But what it did was use and appropriate the public treasury and the peoples’ assets for its own benefit." (Matros Araluce, 2010). However, counteracting this argument is the reform of both the education and health care systems. As mentioned above, significant sums of public money were invested to provide free education and health care after the revolution. Although corruption still exists in Cuba, Castro took many steps in the attempt to eradicate it. An example of this was the closing of the casinos and brothels, which had thrived under Batista’s regime. Castro’s attempts to end the corrupt influences also served to align Cuba against the US Mafia. "[Castro] considered that alcohol, drugs, gambling...and prostitution were major evils. He saw the casinos and night-clubs as sources of temptation and corruption and he passed laws closing them down...The Mafia were known to be angry with Castro for closing down their profitable brothels and casinos in Cuba. (Spartacus Education, 2010)." The second factor in assessing Castro as a dictator is the question of political liberty. Following the revolution, Castro oppressed opposition through the establishment of labour camps under a plan named UMAP (Military Unit to Help Protection). The purpose of the camps was to: "... eliminate and punish those deemed unfit for his revolution while using them for free labor... Castro's thugs went through every city, neighborhood and city block, arresting thousands of men" (Blazquez, 2004). The UMAP program greatly violated the human rights of thousands of Cubans. "Castro’s human rights violations are legion; starting in 1965 he developed his system of concentration camps...It is estimated that some 18,000 political prisoners have been killed in Cuba since Castro came to power." (Discover the networks, 2005). Castro further compromised political liberty through censorship of the media. “The media [was] a crucial factor for the consolidation of the authoritarian regime of Fidel Castro” and was therefore “ for political and economic reasons” (Albarran, 2009). There have been many criticisms of this censorship. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights stated in its report on Cuba that: “One of the most serious violations of human rights that occurs in Cuba, is violation of the right to freedom of expression.” (2008). Political liberty has been further compromised under Castro by the use of propaganda in education. Although Castro improved the education system dramatically, he also used schools as a place to teach communist values, encouraging positive attitudes about the revolution. He felt that if children were taught such things at a young age they would be loyal to his regime. Children were therefore “subjected to daily indoctrination” (Reyes, 2008).

Having analysed government probity and political liberty under both Batista and Castro it can be seen that both dictators committed crimes violating the political liberty of the Cuban people. The corruption of Batista however, was unmatched by Castro. In fact, Castro worked to eradicate the corruption initiated by Batista prior to the revolution. Thus it can be deduced that the revolution was a positive change in terms of moving from the corrupt dictatorship of Batista to the less corrupt dictatorship of Castro.

The final element of this assessment relates to the economy. The revolution had deep and lasting consequences for Cuba’s national economy. Following the revolution in 1969, the US, essentially in opposition to socialism, placed an economic embargo on Cuba. (Amnesty International, 2010). Cuba’s economy had been dependent on the export of sugar to the US and was fundamentally threatened by this. Due to ideological similarities, the Soviet Union agreed to take up the importation of Cuban sugar, switching the dependence of Cuba’s economy from the US to the Soviet Union. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 Cuba was plunged into economic crisis. Although the US embargo and its ultimate consequences were outside the control of Castro the economic isolation of Cuba and subsequent economic decline can be directly related the revolution.

A full assessment of the economic impact of the revolution must also include an analysis of social equality and the division of individual wealth. Before the revolution there was much social inequality. This can be linked to discrimination, which“…was based not only on race but more importantly on class, leading many scholars to define the pre-revolutionary period as that of a colour/class system” (Jorquera, 1998). Many people were excluded from educational opportunities on the grounds of race and class and therefore unemployment rates were extremely high. (Jorquera, 1998). This social inequality in turn led to a poor distribution of wealth and a low standard of living for many.

After the revolution Castro focused on eliminating discrimination on the grounds of class and race. Consequently, "[with] the revolution…came the end... [of the] authority of the ruling class; the revolution gave it's people an opportunity to end…much of the discrimination and miseries of Batista's Cuba" (Cuba Socialista, 1994). This, in creating social equality, reduced unemployment and led to improved distribution of wealth and a better standard of living despite the damage sustained to the national economy.

The Cuban Revolution, and the instatement of Fidel Castro as President, led to many positive changes for Cuba. Castro transformed the education system, creating a vast number of opportunities for those that had been subject to discrimination on the basis of race and class under the Batista regime. Castro also improved the public health care system, giving all Cubans access to free health care. A comparison of government probity and political liberty under both Batista and Castro reveals that there were faults in the leadership of both. Though it can be seen that political liberty did not improve after the revolution, there was a decrease in corruption. Due to the consequences of the US embargo, the national economy suffered, however, increased social equality meant that the overall standard of living was greatly improved. In weighing up these outcomes for education, health care, governance and the economy it can be seen that the Cuban Revolution resulted in an overall positive change for the great majority of Cubans.

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Annotated Bibliography


Branch, Laurence G. & Whiteford, Linda M., Primary Health Care in Cuba, Rowman & Littlefield, 2009, United States of America
This book examines the dramatic improvements made to the Cuban health care system since the revolution. It is relatively unbiased, but possibly leans in favour of Castro at times. It is written in easy to understand language and was very helpful.

Hirschfeld, Katherine, Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898, Transaction Publishers, 2009, United States of America
This book gives comprehensive information on the Cuban health Care system from a number of viewpoints. It is unbiased, written in plain language and provided me with excellent material.

Judson, C. Fred, Cuba and the revolutionary myth: the political education of the Cuban Rebel Army, 1953 – 1963, Westview Press, 1984, United States of America
This book provided information of the political education in Cuba sympathetic to the revolutionaries. It was useful in giving me insight into the political perspective of the rebel groups.

Kirk, John M., Cuba: Twenty-Five Years of Revolution, Praeger, 1985, New York
This book is a compilation of essays by academics and scholars on the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. It provided me with unbiased information on social reform, cultural change, the Cuban economy, political process and foreign policy. It was quite useful.

MacEwan, Arthur, Revolution and economic development in Cuba, Macmillan, 1981, Australia
This was a very helpful book. It provided me with comprehensive statistics on the improvement of the education system in Cuba. It was seemingly unbiased and written plainly.

McManus, Jane, Cuba’s Island of Dreams, University Press of Florida, 2000, Florida
This book gives unbiased information on Castro’s education regime on the Isle of Pines. It includes first hand accounts on the island and was an excellent source of information.

Serra, Ana, ‘The “new man” in Cuba: culture and identity in the revolution’, University Press of Florida, 2007, United States of America
This book looks at Cuban cultural identity in terms of political influence. It provides an unbiased and easy to follow depiction of the improvements Castro made and how they influenced Cuba.

Stubbs, Jean, ‘Cuba, the test of time’, Latin American Bureau, 1989, London, New York
This book discusses the obstacles and achievements setup by the revolution and provided unbiased information and a balanced argument crucial to my research.


Amnesty International, 2009, ‘The US Embargo Against Cuba: Its impact on economic and social rights’,, (date accessed: 26/06/11)
This was an extremely useful source as it is credible and unbiased. It provided me with extensive information on the impact of the US embargo against Cuba.

Bracken, Chris, 2002, ‘La Habana’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This source discusses Cuba’s complicated political history. It is unbiased and written in plain language. I found it quite useful.

CIA, 2011, ‘The World Factbook: Central America and Caribbean: Cuba’,, (date accessed: 23/06/11)
This is a very reliable source that provided me with important statistics. It is unbiased and I found it very useful.

Constitution Net, 2010, ‘The constitution of the Republic of Cuba, 1976 (as amended to 2002)’,, (date accessed: 27/06/11)
This source provides the entire Cuban constitution of 1976, providing me with the material needed to prove the human rights violations of both dictators. As with legal documents it was dense and not easy to understand but was nonetheless useful.

Cuba Socialista, 2010, ‘Batista’s Cuba’,, (date accessed: 20/06/11)
This source is sympathetic towards the Castro government. It provides an argument against Batista, providing statistics and information on the faults of Batista’s regime. It was relatively useful.

Discover the Networks, 2005, ‘Fidel Castro: Profile’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This source gives a detailed account of Fidel Castro’s life. It is fairly bias neutral however, does look at Castro’s ‘crimes against humanity’. It was very useful in providing another perspective to the debate of dictatorships.

Earth Trends, 2003, ‘Population, health and Human Well-Being – Cuba’,, (date accessed: 27/06/11)
This source gave me unbiased statistics on the Cuban population compared to surrounding Latin American Countries and the rest of the World between 1975 and 2025.

Florida International University, 2011, ‘Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Report on Cuba’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This source was very useful. It provided unbiased information on the human rights abuses seen in Cuba since the revolution. The information was a little dense though and included many legal exerpts from documents such as the Cuban Constitution.

Gasperini, Lavinia, 2000, ‘The Cuban Education System: Lessons and Dilemmas’,, (date accessed: 20/06/11)
This source was written by the World Bank, and compares the education systems of Cuba and Columbia. It provided me with an array of information on the pros and cons of the Cuban education system and was unbiased.

Glassman, Naomi, 2011, ‘Revolutionary racism: Afro-Cubans in an Era of Economic Crisis’,〈=fr, (date accessed: 23/06/11)
This source is an article written for the organisation CETRI. It is not overtly biased. It acknowledges the successes of anti-discrimination changes since the revolution, however, raises the argument that racism in Cuba still exists and needs to be addressed. I found it quite useful.

Gonzalez, E. & McCarthy, K., 2004, ‘Cuba After Castro: Legacies, Challenges, and Impediments’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This is a report provided by RAND organization and gives fairly non-biased information on all aspects of Cuba since Castro, making guess on what is to come when the Castro reign is over, I found it quite useful but a little too dense.

Havana Guide, 2011, ‘Batista Cuba’,, (date accessed: 23/06/11)
This source is written in very simple language and criticises many of Batista’s actions. It was useful in learning what the faults of the Batista regime were.

Johnston, Laurie, 1995, ‘Education and Cuba Libre, 1898-1958’,, (date accessed: 18/06/11)
This source was quite useful as it gives an extensive account of the Cuban Education system between 1898 and 1958. It is relatively unbiased, however, provides a list of the faults education under Batista.

Jorquera, Roberto, 1998, ‘cuba’s struggle against racism’,, (date accessed: 23/06/11)
This source gives a great overview of the issue of racism in Cuba dating back to 1492. It is unbiased and written in simple, easy to understand language, making it a useful source.

Kling, Merle, 1962, ‘Cuba: a case study of a successful attempt to sieze political power by the application of unconventional warfare’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This source is an extract from a book that discusses the inevitability of revolution in Cuba. It is somewhat biased towards Castro however was quite useful.

Klouzal, Linda, 2007, ‘On the Threshold of Revolution: Political Crisis and Personal Struggle in Cuba in 1957’,, (date accessed: 20/06/11)
This source is a case study of the Cuban Revolution provided by the Department of Sociology of the University of California. It is unbiased, providing three differing political perspectives. It was extremely useful in providing me with insight into three sides of the debate on Cuban politics.

Kwintessential, 2010, ‘Cuba Healthcare Guide: Health care in Cuba’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This source is an article about the improvements made to the health care system under Castro. It is quite biased towards Castro and is not an overly credible site. Nonetheless I found it useful to gain an understanding of what exactly Castro did.

Latin American Studies, 1997,, (date accessed: 23/06/11)
This is a comprehensive source with chapters written by an organization named Latin American Studies, on many aspects of the Cuban Revolution. It is presents bias towards Fulgencio Batista and was useful in giving me insight into the other side of my argument.

Lendman, Stephen, 2006, ‘Cuba Under Fidel Castro’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This source is biased towards Castro. Nonetheless it was very useful as it provides, in extensive detail, information on the successes of Castro’s regime, crucial to my essay.

Maria de Gordon, Antonio, 2004, ‘Health and Health Care in Cuba: the transition from socialism to the future’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This source was very useful as it is unbiased and provided extensive information on the Cuban Health care system over the last 100 years or so. The language was also easy to understand.

Matros Araluce, Hubert, 2010, ‘Castro Regime Cannot Survive without Corruption’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This article is biased against the Castro government, criticising it for its corruption. Nonetheless it was easy to understand and useful.

Oracle Education Foundation, 1998, ‘Fulgencio Batista (1901 – 1973)’,, (date accessed: 20/06/11)
This source briefly describes the essential events that led to Batista becoming President and later deposed by Castro. It is biased against Batista, including information about his corruption. It was useful in providing me with information on the negative aspects of Batista’s rule.

Reyes, Jose, 2008, ‘Issue No. 3 Article No. 3 “Call Me Gusano”’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This source is written in first person and is biased against both Batista and Castro. It describes some of the negative actions of both dictators and was quite useful to my research.

Sanchez, Mariana, 2009, ‘Reflecting on the Cuba revolution’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This source is an article written for Al Jazeera. It discusses life in Cuba since the revolution, including many quotes from Cuban citizens expressing their joy about the improvements made by Castro in the education and healthcare sectors. It is relatively unbiased and questions if the Cuban Revolution remains a positive thing, however, only presents accounts from Fidelistas.

Sierra, Jerry A., 1998, ‘Batista’,, (date accessed: 20/06/11)
This source provides an unbiased factual account of Batista’s political life from his birth to his death. It was quite useful, informing me about the major events that occurred between 1933 and 1973.

Spartacus Educational, 2008, ‘Fidel Castro’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This source, although it is not completely reliable was a good starting point for gathering information on Castro’s life. It was unbiased ad written in easy to understand language.

Strug, David L., 2008, ‘What the Cuban Revolution Means to Older Cubans,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This source was written by David L. Strug, Ph.D. and discusses, with the use of primary accounts, why older Cubans, despite the hardships of life, still support the Revolution. It does not present any overt bias, however, only presents accounts from those in support of the Revolution.

Travel Cuba Before Castro, 2006, ‘Cuba before Castro’,, (date accessed: 23/06/11)
This source provides information on Cuba throughout the Batista era. It is a little biased against Batista focusing on the corruption of his presidency. It was quite useful.

UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2009, ‘UIS Statistics in Brief: Education (all levels) profile – Cuba’,, (date accessed: 20/06/11)
This is an unbiased source that provides an array of accurate statistics on education in Cuba between 1990 and 2009. It was very useful in gathering statistics.

US Department of State, 2008, ‘Cuba Facts’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This is a reliable, unbiased source. It provided me with statistics concerning the Cuban healthcare system in comparison to other Latin American Nations since 1954.

World Health Organization, 2011, ‘Cuba’,, (date accessed: 24/06/11)
This is a very reliable source and provided me with accurate statistics on the improvements made to the Cuban Healthcare system since 1959.

Assessment Task