Even today, Cuba’s progress is limited

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 22, 2001

Editor’s note — DAILY LEADER Editor and Publisher Bill Jacobshas been in Cuba for the past week as part of a delegation ofjournalists touring the communist country. Due to the difficultiesin communicating with the U.S., the following was written prior tohis departure.

HAVANA, CUBA — Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, thelargest of the Caribbean islands was inhabited years beforeColumbus by native Indians.

When Columbus set foot on the island, over 100,000 ArawakIndians already populated the Cuba.

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Over the next few centuries Cuba served as a colonial outpostcontrolled at different times by the Spanish and the British. Atthe end of the 18th century Cuba began its quest for independence,although it was not until the Spanish-American War in 1898 thatCuba was successful. However, that independence ended quickly asthe island was put under American military occupation allowing U.S.business interests to grow during the early 1900s.

It was under the dictatorship of U.S. supported FulgencioBatista in the 1940s and 50s that Fidel Castro and Che Guevarabegan gaining strength in the countryside. Working class Cubansbecame frustrated by the corruption and poor economic conditionsblamed on the Batista government.

After a three-year struggle and with the fall of the city ofSanta Clara in December of 1958, Batista fled the country on Jan.2, 1959, and Castro assumed power of Cuba.

Also fleeing with Batista were thousands of nationals whorepresented the wealthy and professional classes of Cuba.Businesses, industries and homes were taken over by therevolutionary government. Relations with the United Statescontinued to cool, as both countries indulged in tit-for-tatmeasures that ended with the complete nationalization of U.S. ownedsugar and tobacco plantations as well as oil refiners and otherindustrial sites. The United States responded with a complete tradeembargo by the United States that continues today.

It was in 1961 that the a group of Cuban exiles trained by theUnited States government began the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasionto defeat the Castro regime. Over 1,500 political prisoners weretaken by Castro and jailed for almost two years to theembarrassment of the United States government.

In 1962 the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brinkof nuclear war as John F. Kennedy and Russian President NikitaKhrushchev played a world-wide chess game that launched the ColdWar.

The fall of communist Russia in 1991 brought Cuba to its knees.Without the economic support of Russia and other communistgovernments the Cuban economy was crippled, forcing the Castroregime to make adjustments that opened the economy to a morecapitalist system.

Castro searched for new trading partners and discovered thevalue of tourism. Castro even began allowing Cubans a limitedamount of entrepreneurial spirit by letting them open their homesas restaurants and hotels, but under the watchful eye of the secretpolice.

Today, European business partners are building resort motelsalong the coastline. Mercedes Benz trucks and Honda sedans and newcar dealerships are springing up, as are upscale restaurants andshopping in the tourist areas.

Despite the economic growth, the average citizen still has todeal with power outages, long lines and shortages of simple goodsand services while tourist are treated much more lavishly withample supplies and services.

While relations between Cuba and the United States have thawedin recent years, tension remains– as seen by the Elian Gonzalezdispute and recent actions by Castro last month to stop telephonecommunications between the two countries.