A Journal of People report
Cuban villagers before the revolution.
Ceaseless propaganda by a group from the mainstream media tries to scandalize gains the people in Cuba have made since they organized their revolution.
The people in Cuba began a new phase of their historic march as Fidel and his comrades victoriously entered Havana on a January-day. It was January 1, 1959. Today, January 1, 2017, it will help learn if the days before the people’s revolution in Cuba are looked at. Natasha Geiling wrote in smithsonian.com on July 31, 2007:
“Cuba’s reputation as an exotic and permissive playground came to light in the 1920s, when the country became a favorite destination for robber barons and bohemians. Scions like the Whitneys and the Biltmores, along with luminaries such as New York City Mayor Jimmy ‘Beau James’ Walker, flocked to Cuba for winter bouts of gambling, horse racing, golfing and country-clubbing.”
Natasha Geiling, online reporter for Smithsonian, added:
“Sugar was Cuba’s economic lifeline, but its tropical beauty — and tropical beauties — made American tourism a natural and flowing source of revenue. A 1956 issue of Cabaret Quarterly, a now-defunct tourism magazine, describes Havana as ‘a mistress of pleasure, the lush and opulent goddess of delights.’
“By the 1950s Cuba was playing host to celebrities like Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra and Ernest Hemingway. But the advent of cheap flights and hotel deals made the once-exclusive hotspot accessible to American masses. For around $50 — a few hundred dollars today — tourists could purchase round-trip tickets from Miami, including hotel, food and entertainment. Big-name acts, beach resorts, bordellos and buffets were all within reach.
“‘Havana was then what Las Vegas has become,’ says Louis Perez, a Cuba historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It attracted some of the same mafia kingpins, too, such as Meyer Lansky and Santo Trafficante, who were evading a national investigation into organized crime. In Cuba, they could continue their stock trade of gambling, drugs and prostitution, as long as they paid off government officials. The fees, however high, were a small price for an industry that raked in millions of dollars every month.
“But while tourists eagerly spun the roulette wheel in sexy Havana, a revolution brewed in the less glamorous countryside. The sugar boom that had fueled much of Cuba’s economic life was waning, and by the mid-’50s it was clear that expectations had exceeded results. With no reliable economic replacement in sight, Cubans began to feel the squeeze. Poverty, particularly in the provinces, increased.”
The article “Before the Revolution, Socialites and celebrities flocked to Cuba in the 1950s” says:
“Unlike other Caribbean islands, however, Cuba boasted a large upper-middle class. Cubans had fought vehemently for independence from Spain from the 1860s to the 1890s, but by the 20th century, the country had become beholden economically to the United States.
“By the late ’50s, U.S. financial interests included 90 percent of Cuban mines, 80 percent of its public utilities, 50 percent of its railways, 40 percent of its sugar production and 25 percent of its bank deposits — some $1 billion in total. American influence extended into the cultural realm, as well. Cubans grew accustomed to the luxuries of American life. They drove American cars, owned TVs, watched Hollywood movies and shopped at Woolworth’s department store. The youth listened to rock and roll, learned English in school, adopted American baseball and sported American fashions.
“In return, Cuba got hedonistic tourists, organized crime and General Fulgencio Batista. In military power since the early 1930s, Batista appointed himself president by way of a military coup in 1952, dashing Cubans’ long-held hope for democracy.”
The article adds:
“Not only was the economy weakening as a result of U.S. influence, but Cubans were also offended by what their country was becoming: a haven for prostitution, brothels and gambling.
“‘Daily life had developed into a relentless degradation,’ writes Louis Perez in his 1999 book On Becoming Cuban, ‘with the complicity of political leaders and public officials who operated at the behest of American interests.’
“In 1957, a group of students fed up with government corruption stormed the National Palace. Many historians consider this a turning point in the revolution.
“Over the next few years, bursts of violence erupted throughout the city. Bombs exploded in movie theaters and nightclubs. Gunshots rang out. Dead bodies turned up on sidewalks and streets.
“‘There had been an idealization of the [Cuba’s] War of Independence and of being a revolutionary,’ says Uva de Aragon, a Cuban academic now living in Miami. ‘In this climate, people thought revolution was a solution to problems.’
“Bloody battles ensued between Batista’s troops and the rebels in the mountains. Still, Cubans tried to keep some normalcy in their lives, going to school, watching baseball games and taking cha-cha lessons.
“‘It was surreal,’ says de Aragon. ‘There was a lot of fear in those last two or three years.’ A teenager at the time, she was particularly aware of what was happening because her step-father, Carlos Marquez Sterling, had run for president against Batista and lost; Marquez wanted negotiation, but Batista’s camp claimed power.
“All classes of Cubans, including the very rich, looked to the young and charismatic Fidel Castro as their hope for democracy and change. Castro … belonged to a wealthy landowning family, but espoused a deep nationalism and railed against corruption and gambling. ‘We all thought this was the Messiah,’ says Maria Christina Halley, one of Uva’s childhood friends. Her family later fled to the United States and now she teaches Spanish in Jacksonville, Florida.
“When Castro’s entourage finally arrived in Havana in January of 1959 after defeating Batista’s troops, Batista had already fled in the middle of the night, taking more than $40 million of government funds.
“In protest of the government’s corruption, Cubans immediately ransacked the casinos and destroyed the parking meters that Batista had installed. Castro also eliminated gambling and prostitution, a healthy move for the national identity, but not so much for the tourism industry.”
Chris Wild writes:
“It was during the presidency of Gerardo Machado in the ’20s that Cuba’s tourist trade really took off. Hotels, restaurants, night clubs, golf clubs and casinos sprung up in Havana catering to the rich jet-setters seeking luxury.”
Chris Wild’s article “Living the Havana High Life” says:
“Tourism, and the growing and selling of sugar, was making some Cubans rich, but not all Cubans. What the tourists didn’t see, or didn’t want to, was the underclass, people of poverty like the macheteros — sugarcane cutters — who worked only during the four month season, and the rest of the year were unemployed, and angry.
“That degree of income inequality as well as accusations of corruption within the government of President Fulgencio Batista laid the groundwork for the Cuban Revolution, prompting an enduring economic embargo by the United States and the rapid end of Havana’s high-life.”
Leonardo Moran writes in Quora:
“I was born in Cuba, studied and worked in Europe, and live in California.
“Cuba’s dictator was a figure of distinction. Immaculate in dress, graceful in carriage, noble in bearing, compact yet sturdily built, Batista was five feet, seven-and-a-half-inches of formidable strength. His coup d’état had been cunningly orchestrated. Army tanks backing him, he overthrew an elected president, closed our universities, dispersed our Congress, disbursed his bribes, and set to work. It happened seven years before Castro took power.
“He professed to be to be a man of faith. God, the Bible told him, helps those who help themselves. Taking Him at His word, he helped himself to all he could. First target was the tourist trade.
“Cuban music had just gone global. We exported the mambo, the rumba, the son, the cha-cha-chá, rhythms that would one day be known as salsa. Cuba had thousands of nightclubs, piano bars, hotels, resorts, cabarets, casinos. We boasted the most beautiful beaches, the most passionate women, the most splendid sunsets. For the sportsmen there was deep-sea fishing. For the wastrels there was gambling. For the jaded there were drugs. For the degenerates there was sex. And we offered all of it, every bit of it, in a style no other nation could match.
“Four hours from New York City, every modern convenience arrived days after an American debut: air-conditioning, moving escalators, the De Soto convertible. Havana, we felt, was modernity itself. Our buro de turismo made sure the world got the message.
“Eighty flights daily were making the round- trip from Miami alone. They came from every city great and small: New York and Chicago, Detroit and Houston, Los Angeles and Saint Louis. With mambo playing forward and cha-cha-chá playing aft, showgirls shimmied up and down the aisles of the Lockheed Constellations offering free daiquirís. When the Americans deplaned and their conga line snaked out the gangway and into the street, Cuba beckoned. And it happened. How could it not? They fell in love.”
Leonardo Moran’s description adds:
“Batista flew in a foreigner named Meyer Lansky to streamline our gaming industry. Lansky and his mafia associates ran the Cinódromo dog track, the casinos at the Riviera, the Sans Souci, the Sevilla-Biltmore, the Gran Casino, the Summer Casino, the Chateau Madrid, the Comódoro, the Monmartre, the Deauville, the Capri, the Havana Race Track. A gambler’s paradise.
“Cocaine was flown in weekly on the Bogotá-Havana-Bogotá flight. Thus opening (said Batista) a promising new revenue stream in the warehousing industry. By which he meant the men’s room at the Sans Souci. A steel door led to a walk-in safe lined with steel safe-deposit boxes. Men of privilege paid steep monthly fees for their keys. There they stored the powder for their infamous white parties.
“Laws? Our laws were models of grammar and punctuation. They simply lacked enforcement. A law without teeth, Batista knew, is empty words and emptier threats. His unwritten laws were admittedly inelegant. But they were enforced with shallow graves. Critics reckless enough to speak out were forced to resign. Those who refused resignation were dismissed. Those who refused dismissal were otherwise persuaded. ‘Silver or lead?’were the options offered. A payoff or a bullet to the head?
“Batista’s extortion racket taxed all private enterprise, from the local whorehouse to the corner barber shop. Business owners called it la mordida – the bite. Havana’s nightclubs, cabarets, and casinos paid an unusually large bite. Should an owner refused, he (or she) was raided by Batista’s Morals Police. A group (it goes without saying) with no morals whatever.
“Havana’s finest bordello was Casa de Marina, a mansion modelled on an eighteenth century estate. Marina’s had live music, a bar, a dance floor, a restaurant open all night. She required referrals. Many were turned away at the door. Marina’s other house of pleasure (she owned a franchise) was near the Sevilla-Biltmore. The Biltmore’s owner was the mafioso Santo Trafficante, a man of Sicilian extraction whose name raised eyebrows in Cuba. The word traficante literally means ‘drug dealer’. ‘Sheer coincidence,’ Batista scoffed.
“Despite his record-breaking larcenies our economy (said the Minister of Finance) grew by only one percent. Unemployment stood at seventeen percent. And sugar still accounted for eighty percent of exports. But like every Latin American dictator, he had in his pocket the army, he had the navy, he had the police. And he had the American.
“Each and every week the Batistas, man and wife, spent an evening playing canasta at the ambassador’s residence. Batista charmed Ambassador Gardner with one of his many Lincoln-themed anecdotes. ‘As I lay abed last night,’ these usually went, ‘reading “The Day Lincoln Was Shot”…’ The story always ended with Batista professing his love for the United States while dabbing at a tear. The ambassador, charmed and lulled by these emotive displays, embraced his true friend. Next day was business as usual for Cuba’s mafia.”
This was written in response to the question: “What was life like in Cuba before the revolution?”
Another description on the issue says:
“There were, however, profound inequalities in Cuban society …In the countryside, some Cubans lived in abysmal poverty. … Sugarcane cutters … were an army of unemployed, perpetually in debt and living on the margins of survival. Many poor peasants were seriously malnourished and hungry. Neither health care nor education reached those rural Cubans at the bottom of society. Illiteracy was widespread, and those lucky enough to attend school seldom made it past the first or second grades. Clusters of graveyards dotted the main highway along the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, marking the spots where people died waiting for transportation to the nearest hospitals and clinics in Santiago de Cuba.”
Samuel Farber writes:
“To the American popular eye, pre-revolutionary Cuba was the island of sin, a society consumed by the illnesses of gambling, the Mafia, and prostitution. Prominent American intellectuals echoed that view. Even in 1969, when Cuban reality had changed drastically, Susan Sontag, in an article in Ramparts, described Cuba as “a country known mainly for dance, music, prostitutes, cigars, abortions, resort life, and pornographic movies.”
In a 2004 article for the Nation, Arthur Miller, based on what he had learned from people who had worked in the film industry in the island, described the Batista society ‘as hopelessly corrupt, a Mafia playground, a bordello for Americans and other foreigners.’
“Although most Cubans would have readily admitted that Sontag and Miller had touched some of Cuba’s real wounds, they would have hardly seen them as the most representative, or as the most pressing problems that affected the island. The perceptions dominant in America’s media revealed far more about the North American colonial worldview than anything about Cuba itself, a feature of the mainstream culture of the US that continues to prevail today.
The article “Cuba Before the Revolution” by Samuel Farber says:
“To Americans, gambling in Cuba meant casino gambling.
“Casinos began to develop in Cuba in the 1920s in connection with the growth of tourism. After several ups and downs in the following three decades, the casino industry took off in the mid- to late 1950s as Batista and his cronies, working together with American Mafiosi, used the resources of Cuban state development banks, and even union retirement funds, to build hotels, all of which hosted casinos, like the Riviera, the Capri, and the Havana Hilton (today’s Havana Libre). In the process both Cuban rulers and Mafiosi lined their own pockets, skimming the casinos’ proceeds, cheating investors, and trafficking drugs.
“However, if the casino world of the island got ample coverage in the American media, it never became a central issue in the island’s media, and in the Cuban consciousness. Aside from the American tourists, who were the casinos’ principal customers, only a small number of Cubans — upper-middle and upper-class whites — gambled there. The casinos’ dress code and minimum betting requirements kept most Cubans out, though it is true that a relatively small but significant number of Cubans earned their living servicing the casinos and the hotels and nightclubs where they were usually located.
“But the economic impact of casino gambling, and even of tourism, was greatly exaggerated in the US. In 1956, a good year for tourism, that economic sector earned $30 million, barely 10 percent of what the sugar industry made that year. This relatively modest performance was due in part to the fact that mass international tourism facilitated by widespread commercial jet travel had not yet begun. In the 1950s between 200,000 and 250,000 tourists visited Cuba annually, compared with slightly over three million in 2014, and likely more in 2015.
“The casinos of Havana were looted immediately after the overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959. The great majority of Cubans saw casinos — as well as the parking meters that had been installed in the capital a few months earlier — as odious expressions of the oppressive corruption of Batista and his henchmen.”
“For a long time, several Mafia families entertained the idea of taking their business to Cuba both as a means to expand their enterprises and to escape the reach of the FBI and the IRS, among other US government agencies. In December 1946, Havana’s classic Hotel Nacional hosted an important gathering of the Mafia attended by the heads of the most powerful families and organized by Lucky Luciano, who had been residing in the island since October of that year. …
“Some other gangsters, such as Meyer Lansky and Tampa’s Santo Trafficante Jr, had a much longer stay on the island and were closely connected to casino gambling. Ironically, part of Lansky’s task was to eliminate the petty trickery of fast-paced games, such as the one called “razzle-dazzle” (a casino equivalent of the “two-card monte”) used to trick gullible tourists. Even Richard Nixon had complained to the US Embassy in Havana about the victimization of one of his rich and influential friends.
“According to historian Rosalie Schwartz, in response to the threat that these games posed to the Havana casinos, Lansky opened a school to train and screen casino employees. Only trained and trustworthy individuals were to gain access to the world of blackjack dealers, croupiers, and roulette stickmen. Eliminating the petty chiselers from his casinos, Lansky ran an efficient operation that attracted big-time professional players to his crap tables, and gamblers who could trust the fairness of the games.”
The article in Jacobin says:
“There were undoubtedly strong links between the Mafia and the Batista regime …. Batista’s 1952 military coup … was not the cause of the power that the Mafia had amassed, but the coronation of its power, and led to a power triangle formed by the dominant financial groups, the Mafia, and US intelligence.”
“Sex work was relatively common in the pre-revolutionary Cuba of the fifties …
“It is estimated that by the end of the fifties Havana had 270 brothels and 11,500 women earned their living as sex workers. Compared with New York City in 1977, where 40,000 female sex workers were reportedly working, the ratio of sex workers in 1950s Havana, with a population of 1 million people, was approximately double the amount of the one in New York City, with 8 million people.”
Samuel Farber, born and raised in Cuba, has written extensively on Cuba. Samuel Farber writes:
“Despite the high number of Cuban women engaged, and exploited, in the industry, there were many more Cuban women in other highly exploited sectors. Poor and unemployed young rural women, a major recruitment zone for the Havana bordellos, were far more likely to end up working as maids in a middle- or upper-class urban household than as prostitutes. …
“According to the 1953 Cuban national census — the last census held before the revolutionary victory in 1959 — 87,522 women were working as domestic servants, 77,500 women were working for a relative without pay, and 21,000 women were totally without employment and looking for work. Moreover, an estimated 83 percent of all employed women worked less than ten weeks a year, and only 14 percent worked year-round.”