Cuba’s new revolutionary government had been able to obtain outside support because of its internal strength. It had demonstrated its capacity for mass mobilization, and it had stood up to US authority and seized North American property.
The Cuban revolution’s domestic opponents were in disarray, and its actions had created strong incentives for Soviet involvement.
Efforts to Consolidate the Cuban Revolution
Cuba’s conversion from capitalism to communism after 1961 brought many changes.
Throughout the 1960s, the intense militarization of Havana — the island’s capital city — was shaped by forces working to consolidate the revolution, not by forces reflecting the Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Much of Havana’s transformation focused on a militarized paradigm of development which, at first, was concentrated on the diversification of agriculture. This strategy, while bearing some similarity to models employed in communist China, was not based on Soviet methodology.
While emphasizing a strong need for planning, Cuba’s focus was on decentralization and provincial self-sufficiency in agricultural production.
Most importantly, to overcome conditions of underdevelopment, during the early 1960s, the central focus was on the reduction of the historic dependence on sugar exports.
Cuban Agriculture and Diversification
Sugar symbolized the source of old repression — slavery in the colony, subservience to foreigners in the republic, and uncertainty in the context of volatile market conditions.
Lessened dependence on sugar was to be achieved in two ways: industrialization and agricultural diversification.
However, efforts to reduce dependency on sugar did not signify a total abandonment of sugar production, but rather an attempt to pursue lower production at stable and predictable levels of output.
At the same time, emphasis was given to non-sugar exports. Cuban planners also hoped to achieve self-sufficiency in food production.
These strategies were expected to reduce Cuba’s susceptibility to the vagaries of the world sugar market, reduce the need for foreign imports (through internal production), improve the Cuban balance of trade, and create new employment opportunities.
The Cuban Revolution: Industrial Objectives
Industrial objectives included the development of new import substitution industries, specifically, metallurgy, chemicals, heavy machinery, and transportation equipment.
Hopes ran high that the discovery of large new reserves of petroleum would assist with the balance of payments and boost industrial expansion.
The investment component of this strategy, Cuba expected would originate from credits from socialist countries and would allow the organization of new industrial and manufacturing units.
Consumption was curtailed to divert instruments into industrialization and rapid economic growth.
The Cuban Revolution Runs Into Problems
Almost immediately, Cuba ran into problems and, within 4 years, the government’s approach to industrialization and diversification were abandoned.
Failures were apparent everywhere.
Agricultural yield declined, especially in the output of sugar, with production dropping from 6.7 million tons in 1961 to 4.8 million tons in 1962 and then to 3.8 million tons in 1963. Not in 20 years had Cuban sugar harvests been so low. The effects reverberated across all sectors of the economy.
Foreign earnings declined and in some sectors disappeared altogether.
Domestic shortages increased.
Food supplies dwindled, and basic consumer goods of all kinds grew scarce..
By early 1962, shortages spread and became more severe. In March, the government responded to increasing scarcity by imposing a general food rationing that soon came to include consumer goods of all types.
Cuban dependence on foreign imports actually increased, as did Cuban reliance on sugar exports.
As a proportion of total exports, sugar increased from 78% to 86%. The balance of trade deficit increased from $14 million in 1961 to $238 million in 1962 to $323 million in 1963, almost all of which was incurred with the socialist bloc nations, $297 million with the Soviet Union alone.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe