Introduction: The Cuban Revolution
and Latin Amer­i­ca
“January 1, 1959, when Fidel Castro triumphed, began a new era in Latin
Amer­ i ­ ca.” So wrote New York Times se­nior editor Herbert Matthews, a close
observer of Fidel Castro’s guerrilla war against dictator Fulgencio Batista.1
Echoing Matthews’ words, dozens of academic and journalistic studies
written in the 1960s proclaimed the Cuban Revolution a major watershed
in Latin Amer­i­ca’s history.
The six de­cades since Castro’s victory have marginalized Cuba from the
Latin American mainstream. As a result, it may appear from ­today’s per-
spective that the Cuban Revolution had been an exotic, aberrant growth
on the Latin American body politic. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The
Cuban Revolution owed its vast influence in Latin Amer­i­ca to the fact
that—­most evidently in its early years—it embodied the aspirations and
captured the imagination of Latin Amer­i­ca’s masses as no other po­liti­cal
movement had ever done.
Beginning with the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Latin Amer­i­ca wit-
nessed the rise of reformist and revolutionary forces dedicated to better-
ing the material condition of the workers, the dark ­peoples, the poor, the
illiterate, the exploited—­those who lived their lives on the margin of soci-
ety and outside the realm of politics. Mexico’s revolutionary 1917 consti-
tution not only set goals for Mexico, but its commitment to po­liti­cal
democracy, social justice, and national liberation from foreign economic
dominance—in sum, to freedom and ­ human dignity—­also set the agenda
for 20th-­century Latin American politics. Following the Mexican Revolu-
tion, mass movements such as Peru’s American Popu­lar Revolutionary Alli-
ance (Alianza Popu­lar Revolucionaria Americana, APRA) and Venezuela’s
Previous Page Next Page