Cuba 1952-1958: Entre votos y balas (Cuba 1952-1958: Ballots or Bullets), Florida International University Cuban Research Institute symposium, Miami FL, November 17, 2008.
Original Spanish language title: 'Mejor Que Batista Cualquiera' o La Política del Fin Justifica los Medios.
'Anybody but Batista'
The Politics of 'The End Justifies the Means',
by Manuel Márquez-Sterling
In 1957 Cuba the catchphrase in the title of this paper, "Anybody but Batista" ("Mejor que Batista Cualquiera") was the slogan of Cubans advocating revolutionary violence as the only avenue to resolve the crisis created by Batista's 1952 coup d'état. Today, with the detachment afforded by fifty years, we can fully appreciate the meaning of that catchphrase and its historical implications. Let's consider what this motto really meant and where it took us.
First and foremost, the phrase "Anybody but Batista" was an expression of the desperate powerlessness of politicians and revolutionary leaders, who from their comfortable air-conditioned quarters in exile had for five long and fallow years been planning violent solutions to the impasse created by Batista. For all their rhetoric, and a few failed conspiratorial plots, in 1957 these armchair revolutionaries ("revolucionarios de aire acondicionado")1 had not even a remote chance of violently overthrowing Batista. While they continued to bluster in their comfortable war rooms in Miami, Fidel Castro, in the Sierra Maestra since 1956, was increasingly in the limelight rendering them before public opinion as toothless old dogs, all bark and no bite.
At that time, the armchair revolutionaries had spent five years undermining all attempts at peaceful political solutions to the crisis, and assailing Batista opponents advocating such non-violent solutions. Their assaults, in the main calumny, took the form of an avalanche of insults and mud-slinging, at the worst naked character assassination. Amidst their invective, they grew increasingly apprehensive that the upcoming 1958 elections (in which Batista was not a candidate) would produce a solution to the crisis without achieving their prized goal of "Punishing Batista". "Batista must be punished" ("Hay que castigar a Batista") had been another of their slogans, and they branded anyone who did not chant it as a "sellout" to the regime.
Second, returning to the catchphrase "Anybody but Batista", the word "Anybody" betrays that it did not matter to the revolutionaries who overthrew Batista, so long as-and this must be emphasized-that it was "Anybody" not associated with the non-violent opposition to Batista, particularly those favoring an electoral resolution. This was because those in that camp did not advocate punitive or vindictive measures, believing (as Carlos Marquez-Sterling asserted) that the national interest and republican cohesion had to be placed ahead of vengeful reprisals, and that it was imperative to return the republic post haste to its constitutional footings. This posture ipso-facto rendered them unacceptable as leaders in the eyes of the armchair revolutionaries.
Mindful that Castro was rapidly supplanting their leadership of the revolutionary opposition, and that the 1958 elections could result in a peaceful political resolution ending Batista's rule, the armchair revolutionaries gathered in Miami in November of 1957 and founded a Liberation Junta to give the impression of unity among the armchair revolutionary factions and Castro's 26th of July Movement. One way or another, the armchair revolutionaries were trying to ride the coattails of Castro's masterful public relations and its resultant gain for his standing in Cuban, US and world public opinion. (It's important to note that many of these armchair revolutionaries frequently traveled to Cuba from Miami, without the 'repressive', 'murderous' Batista regime arresting them or interfering with them in any way-not even halting the emoluments and pensions some of them received from the Cuban government. Nary a one of them was reduced to menial work or laboring as farm workers in Florida's agricultural fields.
No sooner was their flamboyant Junta launched than it began issuing high-sounding declarations and resolutions, including the announcement of election by unanimous agreement of a Provisional President of Cuba, to take the reins upon Batista's downfall: the respected economist Felipe Pazos. When news of the announcement of the Junta agreements reached Castro in the Sierra Maestra, he flew into one of his frequent rages. Wasting no time, he fired off an angry letter to the Junta Miami officers on December 14, 1957. In that letter Castro repudiated the agreements to which his own delegates were signatories, and categorically rejected the creation of a military junta as successor to Batista- which the Junta had also agreed and announced. With characteristic arrogance Castro also affirmed, to the chagrin of Junta members, that there were no binding agreements whatsoever between him the Junta, and that maintaining public order and reorganizing Cuba's armed forces after Batista's fall was the exclusive prerogative of the 26th of July Movement. He added that, in regard to a provisional president, he had already designated Manuel Urrutia.
Castro's letter fell like a depth charge on Miami. The message was a take-it-or-leave-it diktat, à la Hitler. Castro's surly rebuff had put the Junta members at a crossroads. They had two alternatives. The first one, if they were still honest with themselves and especially with the Cuban people, was to flatly reject what was an unquestionably arrogant and arbitrary imposition by Castro, and denounce it as such before Cuban public opinion. Castro had in fact preemptively deposed the president designated by the Junta. and had also-arbitrarily and without consultation-imposed his own president.
The Junta's second alternative, in the face of Castro's treachery, was to suspend or withdraw their support, and if not accept the invitation to join the advocates of an electoral solution led by Carlos Márquez-Sterling, at least suspend their vicious and slanderous attacks across all news media against the electoralist opposition until the final outcome of the 1958 election.
Unfortunately for Cuba, however, the Junta revolutionaries chose neither of those alternatives. Choosing abasement instead, they bowed their heads and without so much as a whimper submissively capitulated to the diktat of the man already emerging as the new dictator of Cuba. They did so because for them the overriding goal was violently overthrowing Batista, as we can gather from Angel Pérez Vidal's candid description of these events in his history of the revolution.
By accepting the premise that preserving public order and the reorganizing the armed forces after Batista's fall was the sole province of the 26th of July Movement, the Junta leaders had tacitly consented to forming revolutionary militias and disbanding the Cuban armed forces. This would potentially put the country in the hands of Communist rabble-and it did in 1959. By quiescence they also consented to the dismantling of all of Cuba's democratic institutions. Agreeing to treat the office of President as appointive at Castro's pleasure and accepting Urrutia as President-a political unknown without a constituency-meant that all executive, legislative and judicial powers would be in the hands of Castro and his 26th of July Movement. And of course the armchair Junta put at Castro's disposal their considerable public relations and propaganda resources within Cuba to harass the electoralists and undermine the 1958 elections.
In political terms, the Liberation Junta on December 14, 1957 anointed the tyrant who would enslave Cuba. From that day Cuba had two dictators: one waning at the exit door, the other waxing at the starting gate. The feckless and degrading abasement the Junta chose as their path elicited from Carlos Márquez-Sterling his prophetic declaration that "A somber tyranny is being incubated in the Sierra." There were few who at the time were able or willing to understand this utterance against the tide.
Years later, in exile from Castro's regime, many of the members of the Junta and the 26th of July Movement tried and continue trying to evade their historical responsibility with the lame excuse that they had been deceived by Castro. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nobody in the revolutionary leadership was deceived, in fact it was they who knowingly deceived the Cuban people who trusted and followed them. As Angel Pérez Vidal has chronicled, the members of the Junta were well-acquainted with Fidel Castro, his criminal past, his communist associations and his modus operandi of lies, tricks and impositions. Yet, knowing all of this, they continued to support him, and failed to denounce him in the public square as a duplicitous thug with a dark past. Quite the contrary, they presented him to the Cuban people as Martí reborn. And the tragic reality is that they did so because they had found their "Anybody" to replace Batista. The treachery of the discrepancy between what these revolutionary leaders knew privately and what they said publicly reveals nothing less than fanatical adherence to the deplorable principle that "the end justifies the means." The end, the violent overthrow of the hated Batista by "Anybody" justified continued support and submission to the basest denizens of Cuba's political gutter. Didn't these leaders know that those who follow this principle always end on the gallows while the accepted means occupies the throne?
By early 1958 Fidel Castro, then holding the reins of the armchair revolutionary opposition (whose leaders had capitulated a few months earlier) felt strong enough to call for a general strike by all Cuban workers on April 9, 1958. As is well known, the strike call was an abysmal (and very public) failure, which demonstrated that 26th of July Movement had not enrolled any significant support from the Cuban working class. At the same time preparations for the 1958 elections progressed, bolstered by the solemn promise publicly made by Batista to hold free and fair elections that year. And as the selection of electoral slates by opposition parties moved forward in an orderly and honest fashion, Cubans began to see the 1958 elections a viable way to be rid of Batista without the risks of a leap into the dark embracing an unknown "Anybody", Fidel Castro and his 26th of July Movement. This was a propitious moment for the armchair revolutionaries, who had submitted to Castro's diktat in December 1957, to separate themselves from Castro and his movement and, once again, if not join the electoral process at least adopt a neutral position.
But, once again, the Junta revolutionaries chose neither of those alternatives. Quite the contrary, in July of 1958 they held a all gathering in Caracas, Venezuela, to ratify a document titled the Caracas Pact ("Pacto de Caracas") formally consenting to the agreements of December 1957. In other words, to ratify and reaffirm the armchair revolutionaries' submission and fealty to Fidel Castro and their acceptance of the terms Castro imposed by fiat. By this time, it was well known that the Castro brothers had reached some type of agreement with the Communist Party. One of its most prominent leaders, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, had traveled to the Sierra Cristal to deliver the considerable sum of eight hundred thousand dollars2 to Raúl in the name of the Communist Party. It was also well known at this time that Communist contingents were operating in the Sierra Cristal, that Communist literature had been introduced into the Sierra Maestra, including Marx's Das Kapital, to indoctrinate campesinos who had joined the rebel guerrillas, and that since 1957 Fidel Castro had personally approved entry of high ranking Communists to the Sierras.
All this clearly showed that Castro was in bed with the Communists. On his return from the Sierra, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez informed Junta leaders that Castro "wished" they officially include the Communists as permanent members of the Junta. Although the Junta leaders rejected Castro's "wishes" on this, the fact that Rodríguez was making large cash deliveries to Castro, and that he "wished" the Junta to accept the Communists should have alerted the armchair revolutionaries that their "Máximo Líder" was shady, and that something was brewing up in the hills. Many of the armchair revolutionaries had participated in the "Montreal Pact" meetings in Canada in 1953, and had witnessed Castro's fiery demand then that the Communists be invited as participants in the Montreal Pact meetings. At that time they had refused Castro's demand. But noting that for the second time Castro was an advocate for the Communists and the Communist Party, and what was happening in the Sierras, the least the armchair revolutionaries should have done was demand an explanation of what the Communists were doing up in the Sierras and what they were getting in return for their large cash infusions.
But they did not demand explanations or accountability from their "Anybody". They did just the opposite, in their degraded station they affirmed their commitment to a revolutionary course no longer theirs to set but now steered by Castro, and they tightened the yoke of a movement over which they had lost control. And before the ink on the Caracas Pact had time to dry they zealously renewed their efforts to derail the 1958 elections, implementing the designs of Cuba's new tyrant: Fidel Castro. As part of their campaign they commissioned Dr. José Miró Cardona to travel to Washington as their envoy to inform the US State Department that Caracas Pact members would never accept any candidates of an election held in submission to a tyrannical regime, nor would they accept the results of the 1958 elections "even if they were free and fair."
It goes without saying that the Caracas Pact was a response to the unending calls and invitations from Carlos Márquez-Sterling to the armchair revolutionaries to join a national civic front to participate in the 1958 elections and nominate their candidate. Márquez-Sterling steadfastly believed that a united national front which included all political parties, and integrated the armchair revolutionaries as stakeholders , would constitute a powerful force that would make it impossible to rig the elections in which Batista himself would not be a candidate.
Adherents of the politics of "The End Justifies the Means" achieved two Pyrrhic victories: their astonishing rejection of the 1958 elections "even if ... free and fair" and the accompanying refusal to accept as legitimate candidates men running in these elections who had for the preceding seven years publicly opposed Batista's regime at considerable jeopardy, having endured extreme harassment and attempts on their lives-including those personally directed by Fidel Castro under his Revolutionary Law #2. In that dictate from the Sierra, Castro decreed running for elected office a capital crime, and he dispatched thugs from the Sierra to carry out executions which cost many electoralists their lives. In the final analysis, the politics of "The End Justifies the Means" justified murder and violence against political opponents who advocated an electoral solution, in order to undermine an arrangement enabling a constitutional solution and averting violence.
The rejection of a national front to challenge not Batista (who was not a candidate) but Andrés Rivero Agüero (who albeit an honorable man enjoyed neither deep-rooted prominence in Cuban public opinion nor popular support) was in reality an invitation to Batista to rig the election. The mean-spirited small-mindedness of the armchair revolutionaries in opting to subvert the 1958 elections also created an incredible historical irony. It cast Batista-the man both opposition wings (peaceful and violent) had endeavored to remove for seven tragic years-as the arbiter to decide the dispute and Cuba's future, to in effect resolve the dispute he started. If Batista chose to allow free and fair elections the inevitable triumph of Márquez-Sterling and his party would have changed the course of Cuba's destiny and we'd be in a different situation today. If on the other hand, Batista rigged the elections (as he did) he would validate the violent opposition and deliver Cuba to Castro, the "Anybody" the armchair revolutionaries chose and surrendered to.
The important role adopting "The End Justifies the Means" as policy played in the collapse and destruction of our republic can be fully appreciated in examining the results of the November 3, 1958 elections. Márquez-Sterling was unable to campaign throughout the country, constrained by being under fire from revolutionary forces of the armchair revolutionaries and Castro, and scarce financial resources. Nonetheless, he emerged the winner in four of Cuba's six provinces: Pinar del Río, Havana, Matanzas and Camagüey. In the remaining two provinces, Oriente and Las Villas, where extreme electoral violence made it almost impossible to vote (especially in the former) Batista's government engaged in ballot-stuffing on a massive scale and haughtily declared that its candidate Rivero Agüero was the winner since he had won more votes in those two provinces than Márquez-Sterling had in the other four.
In the face of these cold facts, one can not help but wonder what would have happened if the armchair revolutionaries, instead of capitulating to Castro's fiat in 1957, rising to the ethical and moral demands of the situation had refused to support or follow Castro, denounced him publicly, and accepted Márquez-Sterling's invitation to join him in a powerful coalition to run a candidate acceptable to all parties against the government in the November 1958 elections. Can we today with the perspective afforded by half a century, and what we've seen happen in other countries, believe Batista would have dared to steal the elections (which were not for him) to install Rivero Agüero in the face of the immense force of organized civil society, from Cabo San Antonio to Maisí-against the will of an entire nation united? Márquez-Sterling never had doubts about the answer. Neither do I. Márquez-Sterling always thought such an electoral mega-fraud would have unleashed a true Cuban revolution dwarfing that of the Sierra tyrant. This painful question will always remain in our history, and future historians with a shred of disciplinary honesty will not be able to elude it.
But the armchair revolutionaries did not take the high road because that path would not achieve the result they desired of "Punishing Batista", and because by then (as Julio Alvarado expounds upon in his La Aventura Cubana) the armchair revolutionaries were well aware that Castro had supplanted their leadership of the revolutionary opposition, and so in their venality the best they could hope for was that upon his victory Castro might dole out (or even reward them with) positions of some standing in his government.
All this, as earlier explained, were the bitter fruits of adopting "The End Justifies the Means" as policy, which was embedded in the slogan "Anybody but Batista." This policy served to pave the road to absolute power for the "Anybody" the armchair revolutionaries had yearned for, and to completely destroy a republic that for all its faults had for fifty-seven years well served its people; and which, I sorrowfully fear, it would be impossible to rebuild today as a force for good in service to the good of the Cuban people.
- Alvarado., Julio (1977): La Aventura Cubana (Madrid: Artes Gráficas y Ediciones).
- Márquez-Sterling, Carlos (1969): Historia de Cuba desde Cristóbal Colón a Fidel Castro (New York: Las Americas Publishing).
- Pérez Vidal, Angel (1997): Historia Intima de la Revolución Cubana (Miami: Ediciones Universal).
1 Some used to call these principals in Miami “air conditioned revolutionaries,” to contrast their risks and hardships with those endured by the fighting revolutionaries in Cuba. Castro’s rebels in the Sierras were hunted by the army and occasionally exchanged gunfire with Batista’s troops. And Castro’s urban guerrillas engaged in terrorism were hunted by the police, and some were killed while building and planting bombs. The combination of Castro’s public relations genius and a complicit press greatly magnified the battles and bravery of the fighting revolutionaries, adding to the scorn for the armchair revolutionaries in public opinion.
2 The amount of $800,000 in 1957 is the equivalent of more than $6 million in 2008 dollars.