January 16, 2009

A Retrospective by Ronald H. Chilcote

A Retrospective 
by Ronald H. Chilcote 

Ronald H. Chilcote is the managing editor of Latin American Perspectives. 

My familiarity with Cuba began during a September 1958 visit to Havana, the culmination of four months’ travel throughout Latin America. Life in the city was corrupt, with gambling and prostitution. The Cuban Revolution brought hope for profound change everywhere. Those days of graduate study at Stanford revolved around the revolution and the fellow students who joined together to analyze the role of revolution and the left. With one of our professors, Ronald Hilton, we exposed the Bay of Pigs plans well before the April 1961 invasion. Another of our professors, John J. Johnson, wrote on the military’s assumption of a professional role in Latin America, and in fact his work contributed to the United States’ counterinsurgency plans. The Pentagon sent six of its young officers to learn about Latin America at Stanford and then to participate in some of the coups that later overthrew legitimate regimes. Two of them, for example, worked with U.S. Ambassador Lincoln Gordon in the 1964 overthrow of the Brazilian president João Goulart. My work on Brazil, Portugal, and the Portuguese colonies of Africa was fundamentally framed within the Cuban experience. I wrote a monograph on the great African revolutionary Amílcar Cabral, who was deeply influential, along with Che and Fidel, in the Tricontinental, based in Havana. I returned to Cuba three times, first for six weeks during 1968 and twice during the 1980s, once to participate in a conference and once to attend the Latin American Film Festival. 

The work of fellow students at Stanford was also shaped by the Cuban Revolution: Donald Bray and Tim Harding wrote on Cuba in a collaborative project widely used in classrooms everywhere; Saul Landau produced celebrated films on Fidel and Cuba; James O’Connor wrote a doctoral thesis and book on monopoly capitalism in Cuba; Sandra Levinson founded the Cuban Studies Center; Richard Fagen wrote on the early experiments of the revolution; Jim Cockcroft’s interest in Cuba led to his early work on the Mexican Revolution; inspired by Cuba, Dale Johnson turned to Chile; and Fred Goff founded the North American Congress on Latin America. At nearby Berkeley, fellow students, including James Petras, Robert Scheer, and Maurice Zeitlin, also were caught up in the revolution. 

Many of us evolved through Latin American Perspectives, which published many articles on the Cuban Revolution, including a provocative debate in Havana involving several of our editors and an issue and later a book of Cubanmaterial (the first anthology by Cubans published in English)made possible because three of us traveled to Cuba to help scholars there with revisions of their manuscripts. 

In retrospect, I find it astonishing that 50 years of the Cuban Revolution have demonstrated not only that profound change is possible but also that, in the face of major challenges, ideals and goals can be upheld through continuous struggle. Of particular importance to me is the drive to provide for the basic needs of all people in Cuba. The accomplishments in the eradication of illiteracy, in educational advancement, in the provision of health care everywhere, and in maintaining the welfare of Cubans set an example for others. The contemporary experiences of other progressive governments throughout Latin America are likely to bring substantial changes. May the Cuban Revolution serve to remind us that meaningful change is possible elsewhere. 

Issue 164, Vol. 36 No. 1, 
January 2009 130-131 
DOI: 10.1177/0094582X08329178 
© 2009 Latin American Perspectives

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