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Traveling to Cuba | Cuba Before the Revolution: The Land and the People | 1950

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This film is a general travelogue about Cuba before Fidel Castro’s Revolution.

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History of Cuba:
Cuba was launched as an independent republic in 1902 with Estrada Palma as its first president, although the Platt Amendment, reluctantly accepted by the Cubans, kept the island under U.S. protection and gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuban affairs. United States investment in Cuban enterprises increased, and plantations, refineries, railroads, and factories passed to American (and thus absentee) ownership. This economic dependence led to charges of “Yankee imperialism,” strengthened when a revolt headed by José Miguel Gómez led to a new U.S. military occupation (1906–9). William Howard Taft and Charles Magoon acted as provisional governors. After supervising the elections, the U.S. forces withdrew, only to return in 1912 to assist putting down black protests against discrimination.

Sugar production increased, and in World War I the near-destruction of Europe’s beet-sugar industry raised sugar prices to the point where Cuba enjoyed its “dance of the millions.” The boom was followed by collapse, however, and wild fluctuations in prices brought repeated hardship. Politically, the country suffered fraudulent elections and increasingly corrupt administrations. Gerardo Machado as president (1925–33) instituted vigorous measures, forwarding mining, agriculture, and public works, then abandoned his great projects in favor of suppressing opponents. Machado was overthrown in 1933, and from then until 1959 Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar, a former army sergeant, dominated the political scene, either directly as president or indirectly as army chief of staff. With Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration a new era in U.S. relations with Cuba began: Sumner Welles was sent as ambassador, the Platt Amendment was abandoned in 1934, the sugar quota was revised, and tariff rulings were changed to favor Cuba. Economic problems continued, however, complicated by the difficulties associated with U.S. ownership of many of the sugar mills and the continuing need for diversification.

In March, 1952, shortly before scheduled presidential elections, Batista seized power through a military coup. Cuban liberals soon reacted, but a revolt in 1953 by Fidel Castro was abortive. In 1956, however, Castro landed in eastern Cuba and took to the Sierra Maestra, where, aided by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, he reformed his ranks and waged a much-publicized guerrilla war. The United States withdrew military aid to Batista in 1958, and Batista finally fled on Jan. 1, 1959.

Land and People of Cuba:
Cuba is the largest and westernmost of the islands of the West Indies and lies strategically at the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, only 90 mi (145 km) from Florida. The south coast is washed by the Caribbean Sea, the north coast by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and in the east the Windward Passage separates Cuba from Haiti. The shores are often marshy and are fringed by coral reefs and cays. There are many fine seaports – Havana (the chief import point), Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Cárdenas, Nuevitas, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantánamo (a U.S. naval base since 1903). Of the many rivers, only the Cauto is important. The climate is semitropical and generally uniform, and like most other Caribbean nations Cuba is subject to hurricanes.

Cuba has three mountain regions: the wild and rugged Sierra Maestra in the east, rising to 6,560 ft (2,000 m) in the Pico Turquino; a lower range, the scenic Sierra de los Organos, in the west; and the Sierra de Trinidad, a picturesque mass of hills amid the plains and rolling country of central Cuba, a region of vast sugar plantations. The rest of the island is level or rolling.

The origins of the population include Spanish (over 35%), African (over 10%), and mixed Spanish-African (over 50%). Spanish is spoken and Roman Catholicism, the dominant religion, is tolerated by the Marxist government. Santeria, an African-derived faith, is also practiced, and there are a growing number of Protestant evangelical churches. The principal institutions of higher learning are the University of Havana (founded 1728), in Havana; Universidad de Oriente, in Santiago de Cuba; and Central Universidad de las Villas, in Santa Clara.

Traveling to Cuba | Cuba Before the Revolution: The Land and the People | 1950

 

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