World History 1959

About the history of the world in 1959, Fidel Castro becomes the leader of Cuba, the death toll on U.S. highways grows.



* The full text of D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover was published for the first time in the U.S.

* The cumulative death toll on U.S. highways exceeded the casualty figures for all U.S. wars combined.

Jan. Fidel Castro took over in Cuba. For Castro, 33, the revolution marked a personal triumph. The son of a sugar plantation owner, groomed in the island's Jesuit schools, and a product of Havana University Law School, Castro had abandoned his legal practice just a few years before to revolt against the repressive regime of Fulgencio Batista. An abortive raid on an army barracks on July 26, 1953, earned Castro a 15-year jail sentence, but he was released to a life of exile two years later. In Mexico, Castro trained Cuban guerrillas for an invasion of their homeland. In December, 1956, he packed his squad into a 58-ft. yacht called Granma and stormed the beaches of eastern Cuba--right into the waiting arms of a government ambush. Somehow Castro and a few others escaped to the Sierra Maestra mountains. From this base of operations, Castro conducted raids and soon became a sort of Cuban Robin Hood to the peasantry. His swelling ranks, though never more than 2,000 strong, wore down the 40,000 Batistianos over the next two years. At the close of 1958, Ernesto "Che" Guevara captured the provincial capital of Santa Clara; and on New Year's Day, Batista abandoned the island to the bearded rebels. On Jan. 8, 1959, Castro marched into Havana at the head of a victory parade and, through the smoke of a 50 cent Montecristo cigar, convinced his supporters that Cuba's feudal system had given way to democracy. He flew to Washington like a "good neighbor" and partially allayed Western fears with talk of legitimate reforms. "The [Cuban] movement is not a Communist movement," he said. "Its members are Roman Catholic mostly. . . . We have no intention of expropriating U.S. property, and any property we take we'll pay for." There was distrust on both sides, however. The U.S. was sensitive to any hint of Communism, while Castro was apprehensive about the future actions of a country that had virtually controlled the Cuban economy for over 30 years. The climate was ripe for a blow-up. When Castro agreed to buy a shipment of crude oil from the USSR in June, 1960, American-owned oil companies in Cuba refused to process it. Castro retaliated by nationalizing the companies. U.S.-Cuban relations deteriorated so rapidly that in 1961 the U.S. imposed a total trade embargo on Cuban goods. Meanwhile, Castro continued to expropriate major foreign-owned industries in his country, eventually seizing $1 billion worth of U.S. property. Although he succeeded in cleaning out the gambling casinos, prostitute rings, and abortion mills which had thrived under the venal Batista regime, he reneged on his pledge to carve up the hugh plantations and parcel them out to the masses. Instead, he formed collective farms. Cuba became increasingly dependent on the USSR, and Castro was quoted as saying, "I am a Marxist-Leninist and will be one until the day I die." Cuba's headlong rush leftward led many Castro supporters to denounce their leader for selling out to the Soviets. A mass exodus of professionals, intellectuals, skilled workers, and resident foreigners followed, most taking refuge in nearby Florida. Unwilling to watch Cuba drained to a residue of illiterate peasants, Castro shut off the flow of emigration. One Italian-born American employee of a defunct gambling casino in Havana escaped only after persuading harried Cuban officials that he was a citizen of Albania, a good Communist country. In short, "the cane curtain" had descended in the Caribbean. However, between 1965 and 1973, 250 thousand Cubans were allowed to emigrate.

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