In February 1962, Fidel Castro spoke the words of the Second Declaration of Havana before a crowd of nearly 2 million in the Plaza de la Revolución: “To the accusations that Cuba wants to export its revolution, we reply: Revolutions are not exported, they are made by the people…. What Cuba can give to the people, and has already given, is its example.” Castro led a country of only 6 million in the process of building a more egalitarian society and economy. But his ability to carry out those plans depended on successfully managing and defeating external and internal threats. Already in 1959, Cuba had sponsored expeditions to try to topple hostile dictatorships. In the decades to come, it would begin to operate with the ambitions of a great power. Sometimes it did inspire other Latin American revolutionaries by its example. It also—contrary to Castro’s declaration—trained and exported soldiers throughout Latin America and Africa in an effort to spread its vision of revolution around much of the southern half of the world.
For some, Cuba in the 1960s and ’70s is the very model of anti-imperialist internationalism and revolutionary solidarity. For others, its efforts to expand revolution beyond its borders helped to destabilize Latin America and strengthen counterrevolutionary forces, clearing a path for many of the region’s right-wing dictatorships. Two new books, Jonathan C. Brown’s Cuba’s Revolutionary World and Dirk Kruijt’s Cuba and Revolutionary Latin America, grapple with this complex legacy. But while Brown and Kruijt start with the same set of questions, they reach essentially opposing conclusions: Brown finds that Cuba’s foreign policy damaged democracy throughout the hemisphere, while Kruijt argues that it helped sustain it.
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