Communism: FIU event discusses Soviet influence in Cuba and the Caribbean

Moderator and history professor Rebecca Friedman introducing the event | Andres Davila, PantherNOW

Andres Davila | Asst. News Director

The Soviet influence on Cuba and the Caribbean is not to be forgotten as the Cuban Research Institute hosted a panel discussion on the history and its impacts on May 16 at Graham Center.

The discussion centered on the history of  Soviet communist activities in the Caribbean region, with a notable focus on its increased expansion following infamous dictator Fidel Castro’s rise to power in Cuba.

Sebastian Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute, spoke about the vitality of this conversation prior to the event in an interview with PantherNOW.

“It’s important to understand the past so you can analyze and understand what’s going on right now. Because many things that have happened before will happen again,” said Arcos.

The panel included three guest speakers who are experts in both Cuban and Soviet history: Sandra Pujals, a history professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, Lilian Guerra, history professor at the University of Florida, and Radoslav Yordanov, an associate for the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.

Arcos would also warn that what happened in Cuba could happen in the United States.

“Today, there are people who dismiss the idea something like what happened in Cuba could happen in the United States. And it’s a mistake. Democracy and freedom [are] something that you do every day,” he said.

This is not a new statement; Venezuela resonates with Cuba as the Latin American nation is still under the power of dictator Nicolás Maduro, who shares similar beliefs as Castro.

Even in the U.S., Republicans and Democrats have attacked each other with terms, such as “fascists” and “communists” respectively – particularly as the 2024 elections loom. 

Throughout the panel, the speakers examined the different aspects of how the Soviets came to Cuba and the Caribbean region to expand communist thoughts across the region. Professor Pujals began the talk with the history that expanded across Latin American cinema and other forms of media. 

“They [Caribbean figures] are all trained by the Soviets at the end of the 20s or beginning of the 30s. Even though they might break away from communism because of Stalinism, their visions had been created by this training that [had] to do with the Soviet presence in the region,” said Pujals during the discussion.

This is a reference to how Soviet thinking was impacted across cinema, mentioning two figures that were notable for maintaining the vision of communism, but breaking away from them: Seki Sano, who is deemed “The Father of Mexican Theater”, and Claude McKay, an advocate for civil liberties in Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. 

Moreover, Professor Guerra discussed how she began her research on Cuban history, touching upon her book “Visions of Power in Cuba: Revolution, Redemption, and Resistance, 1959-1971”. She brought up how Cuban education was incorporated by Marxist ideals, being backed up as Castro promoted these ideals to schoolchildren. 

“The idea was to ‘achieve a communist personality in every child and so this also extended to the selection of teachers having Marxist principles’,” said Guerra in the discussion.

Professor Lilian Guerra presenting her research on communism in Cuba | Andres Davila, PantherNOW

Expanding more on the Soviet impacts, Professor Yordanov emphasized that even though the Caribbean region had major influences from those beliefs, it was expanding heavily in Eastern Europe. [the Caribbean region had more Soviet influence based on their relation with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.] 

“Belgrade wasn’t all of that by any stretch of imagination. Bucharest is equally wary of [the coup] and relationships that existed only Castro might have and he was not so straightforward,” said Professor Yordanov at the event.

He refers to the 1944 Romanian coup d’etat which was a tactic for the Soviet Union to gain more territory, as well as the influence on communism in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, happening simultaneously. 

This generates more evidence of Castro’s relationship with the Soviet Union, thus leading to the buildup of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Revolution.

After multiple aspects of what communism came to be in Cuba, Sebastian Arcos hopes that this brings more attention to how the United States should approach their relationship with Cuba. 

“The United States should promote free trade [among] more Latin American nations. [They] shall be open up to free trade [because] the idea that we should protect our own markets because we are a rich country [is] actually a bad idea for capitalism and democracy overall”.

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