This is the first of three features on "CUBA FIVE YEARS AFTER THE REVOLUTION", to be serviced in the near future.
This is the first of three features on "CUBA FIVE YEARS AFTER THE REVOLUTION", to be serviced in the near future. VISNEWS cameraman Sepp Riff based in Vienna, has been on a 3-week assignment to the island.
Dr Castro's success and his speeches announcing his conversion to Marxism, have presented the United States with what it regards as an alien system, right on its own doorstep. Cuba is blockaded by the United States and supported by the Soviet Union. Through the camera you can see the effect this has had on Cuban and their way of life.
SYNOPSIS: ...The exciting 'New World' skyline of Havana, Cuba - former playground of North American millionaires. VISNEWS cameraman Sepp Riff recently visited Cuba and brought back these impressions of life on the island - five years after the revolution.
Much has happened since December 1956 when Dr. Fidel Castro landed in Cuba with a small - but highly effective - band of guerrillas. Known as 'Barbudos' - the bearded ones - they operated from the mountainous southeast of the island - Oriente Province. Two years of guerilla, and later open-warfare, and they defeated the Batista regime, forcing the President to flee for his life in January 1959. Dr. Castro's victory was complete - not only over Batista but over the Cuban people's hearts and imaginations. He was acclaimed the Liberator.
Then came the rift with the United States, which had regarded Batista's Cuba almost as part of the mainland. The impressive United States embassy in Havana has long been deserted - now children play there as workmen board up the windows. The Americans left in 1961 when Dr Castro insisted that the mission be reduced to eleven members, which President Eisenhower said, made ordinary diplomatic relations impossible. The vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal has been more than filled by Russia and the other Communist states.
Other buildings have been requisitioned and taken over. In the once exclusive Havana suburb of Miramare, the palatial homes of some of the 1/4 million people who fled into exile, are now occupied by schoolchildren and youth groups for training and education.
The former rich man's Havana Yacht Club is now a Working Mens' Club; the Casino, once centre of the sophisticated night life of Havana, is now an Art School.
Walk through the streets of Havana and you can't help noticing the militia - everywhere. Students, shop assistants, clerks, telephone girls - all put on, or squeeze into - militia uniform. Clutching rifles or revolvers, they stand - or sit - guard, over all Government buildings.
When the Americans moved out, the Russians moved in - and in a big way. Russian merchantships are among the most frequent callers at Cuban ports, bringing all kinds of industrial and mechanical equipment. After the long sea journey, some of it arrives in a damaged condition. And so far, even with the help of foreign technicians, very often the Cubans lack the 'know how' to repair the damage quickly.
While ship loads of technical equipment pour in, there's a shortage of food - especially vegetables. Under the rationing scheme each person is given a number and can only buy rations when his number is displayed - like lottery tickets - in the shop windows. If they miss their turn, they go without. Strict clothes rationing is also in force.
But special efforts are made to give children a balanced diet. This school makes sure they receive at least one good meal a day. In addition each child receives a quart of milk - unobtainable by adults, even in the best restaurants.
Hotel food is scarce - and even bread can be difficult to get. Restaurants fare better, and at the moment things are brighter than for many months...There are wines from Spain, Bulgaria and Chile - and, some Russian vodka.
The free-spending, fun-loving tourists have disappeared, but foreign visitors are accepted as part of life and are welcomed almost everywhere. Many of the Russian and other Communist teachers, technicians and experts have brought their families with them. When they are not working the visitors relax like this group at the Farmer Havana Country Club.
Life on the smaller farms and farmsteads is much the same as it always was...But in the hope of increasing production, Cuba - like all Communist countries - has experimented with collective farms. This dairy collective is obviously one of the more efficient and better organised. Among other things it has a Russian adviser. But with all experiments, there are successes and failures - the latter have resulted in more centralised control of agriculture from Havana. On the collective the workers live in houses supplied free, complete with furniture. Circumstances have forced Dr Castro to give up the idea of rapid industrialisation, and to concentrate on agriculture as the foundation of the economy for at least another decade.
Sugar is Cuba's main product, and Dr Castro's January visit to Moscow produced a long term sugar agreement designed to safeguard Cuba's economy from fluctuating world prices. But sugar production began to decline in 1961 - just two years after the revolution. Moreover the industry was badly hit during last year's visit from Hurricane Flora.
Tobacco production has fallen as well, but there's no lack of demand at home, and certainly Cuba has found alternative export markets since the United States prohibited the import of Cuban cigars...The revolution hasn't altered the traditional skill of hand making cigars... (Incidentally, some of these find their way into the United States via France).
Dr Castro maintains overall control through the CDR - the Revolutionary Defence Committees, and there's one in every village and every district of the towns. Its members, hand-picked for loyalty to the revolution, handle everything from issuing ration cards to reporting on political activities.
As in all newly created states there are frequent mass political meetings, but the humorous Cuban character comes through. They sing the Socialist 'Internationale' to the rhythm of the cha cha, and sometimes refer to their brand of Communism as "musical Communism".