Angry Young Cubans take over
J. Halcro Ferguson
Fidel Castro's victory in Cuba has been welcomed with remarkable unanimity in all the free countries of Latin America. Like the overthrow of Perez Jimenez in Venezuela exactly a year ago, it is seen as a kind of New Year present to democracy.
Part of the feeling is undoubtedly emotional: the appeal of an honest young David routing a corrupt, cynical and powerful Goliath.
There is no doubt that the deposed Batista was among the most unpleasant of dictators. He could not claim even to have bettered the lot of workers, like Peron, or to have bought peace to his country like his present host Trujillo of the Dominican Republic.
But there is more to it than that. The overthrow of other Latin dictatorships has had popular support, but in almost very case it has been made possible by the assistance or least the benevolent neutrality of the professional armed forces, who have remained intact with all their implicit power of intervention in politics.
In Cuba it has been a straight fight, and the civilian 26 de Julio movement is now on its own, free to shape the country according to its own ideas.
It is precisely this, which has caused disquiet in some quarters - particularly in the United States. Castro is a socialist who formerly advocated the nationalisation of sugar estates, compulsory profit sharing in industry, and other 'dangerous' ideas. Some of his supporters are known to be communist sympathisers.
Most of the members of the movement, including Castro himself, are young. Will they be able to govern effectively? The pessimists can point to the looting and violence in Havana as evidence that they cannot.
But an outbreak of public disorder after a protracted civil war was only to be expected, and Batista's rule had been so arbitrary and so corrupt that it had brought the law into contempt. As in an occupied country, patriotism had become identified with law-breaking, an attitude which may take time to eradicate.
The political misgivings have more justification. The line that the Castro movement is communist was, of course, taken by Batista to impress United States opinion, and for a long time it was pretty successful.
But it was never true in the sense that Castro himself was a communist or that the movement as a whole was communist-dominated - it had, in fact, the sympathy of the Roman Catholic Church.
It is true, however, that the willingness of foreign firms to do business with the dictator encouraged a leftward trend of thinking in the 26 de Julio movement. It is also true that Castro himself is a socialist (though he denies being a marxist) and has in the past proposed far-reaching economic measures.
His representative in Washington says now, however, that he has abandoned the more extreme parts of his programme as being impractical, and it seems likely that he has in fact moderated his ideas.
No Man of Straw
Possibly the most encouraging is his choice of an interim President. The mere fact that he has not picked himself is significant; as is the strictly legal point that he himself is under the constitutional age of 35 (Batista never let small points like constitutions bother him). The man has chosen is more significant still.
Judge Manuel Urrutia is no man of straw. Under Batista's rule it was hard for any member of the judiciary to maintain his integrity. Urrutia did. When, last year he had to pass judgement on 150 young men charged with incitement to violence he dismissed the case on the grounds that under the existing regime they had no legal way of asserting their constitutional rights.
He was forced to seek refuge in the United States, but returned to Cuba to join the rebels, a curious position for a respectable lawyer of 58 to find himself in.
Free Election Pledge
Castro has declared that free elections will be held as soon as possible. A few years ago such a claim by a Latin American Revolutionary would have caused sceptical smiles. Now it can probably be taken at its face value.
The provisional governments in Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela, which followed the overthrow of dictators, all honoured similar pledges last year. There is no reason to believe that Castro will be an exception.
He is a representative of a generation of purposeful angry young men
in Latin America, part of whose make-up is a serious idealism. They are
about as different from
wayward tyrants like Batista as it is possible to be.
Undoubtedly Castro will make the mistakes of immaturity, but there is little doubt that in the future Cuba will be a freer and healthier country.