IN THE rosy dawn of the twentieth century, the United States took possession of Spain’s principal island colonies: in the Pacific, the Philippines, and in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and Cuba. American forces were welcomed by gentlemen planters in peaceful Puerto Rico, but in Cuba the Roughriders joined crusty veterans of a decade of rebellion in routing those Spanish soldiers who somehow had managed to avoid the deadly yellow fever.

During the sixty years since then, the two former Spanish colonies have pursued notably different courses. Puerto Ricans remained under American governors until after World War II, when they developed their own self-governing, free, and American-associated state. The Cubans quickly became sovereign and, with and without U.S. assistance, they went from dictator to tyrant and from revolution to rebellion until this year, when, after some four centuries, they started to reorganize the colonial social order.

The Cubans never have had workable self-government. They record as benefactors tyrants who build roads and steal about half the public treasury. Such a tyrant was President Fulgencio Batista. He improved the Havana landscape, building a long-needed tunnel under the bay. Graft was limited and regularized, though in these expansive years it was impressive — for the Batista clan, hundreds of millions of dollars. But until he was challenged, Batista was listed as a reasonably civilized dictator. Then he imitated his predecessors.

Batista’s bullies tortured, mutilated, and murdered in a regime imposed upon Cuba by the army. Batista thus defended himself for some six years against a rebellion proclaimed by Fidel Castro Ruz, a twenty-seven-year-old lawyer, a first-generation Cuban of Spanish descent, the idolized son of an exceedingly religious and wealthy family. Castro, now thirty-three, is the leader of Cuba’s revolutionary movement, Prime Minister, and the most popular, powerful figure on the island — and possibly in its history.

Batista escaped on January 1, 1959, during the astonishing day when his demoralized army fell apart, leaving nothing to stop Castro. So sudden and unexpected was Batista’s collapse that his final communiqué, announcing the rout of Castro’s militia, was widely accepted and published abroad and read to the accompaniment of radio bulletins broadcasting Castro’s victory.

Castro’s miracle

The victory was difficult to comprehend. Cuba had been fairly prosperous; the booming tourist trade had paid for a glittering surface on a rather firm economy. Cuba’s military forces were armed and trained by an expert United States military mission suffering only from one professional ailment — the inability or unwillingness to see that your army can be licked by their militia.

There was another type of blindness in Washington: Cubans, like others, had been advancing politically and culturally. The shamefulness of life without dignity in a politically contrived cesspool was being felt more deeply and invoked increasingly strong reactions. Washington had not accurately estimated the great power of the forces corralled by Castro. They included only a scattering from the proletariat of Havana and other towns. Organized labor was afraid, cynical, perhaps even satisfied with Batista. The unlettered peasants were mostly cautious. Many Cubans of all classes could remember scars received when their parents, family, or clan jumped a little too quickly onto a hearse they mistook for a bandwagon.

Castro’s forces, moreover, were ridiculous. Castro and his followers had come from Mexico in an overcrowded yacht, and only a handful of his men survived the landing and a flight into the mountains. His supporters became more numerous, but they were vastly outnumbered and outgunned, even at the end. Batista’s forces had what the Pentagon sold him, including an air force. Castro had what he could smuggle in. Friends helped, planes and small ships arrived, but until he captured the army’s superior equipment he was severely handicapped. He never, as a rebel, succeeded in organizing a revolutionary strike, and the most his associates could accomplish in Havana were courageous but ineffective acts of sabotage and terrorism.

For all these reasons, Castro’s victory seemed miraculous, especially to those who conceive of revolutions as proletarian, sparked by depressions and empty stomachs in the wake of defeat in war, when the armed forces of a nation are helpless. Castro, a rich lawyer of the upper class, backed by the sons and daughters of Cuba’s middle class and financed by Cubans living in the United States, liquidated a rather prosperous regime which had fought no war, which had the backing of the United States, a sound currency, and at least the passive support of organized labor.

Cuba decides to go it alone

Castro’s revolution retained at the start of his government the active support of all those Americans who find thieving caudillos nauseating. Puerto Rico’s Governor Muñoz Marin urged patience and cooperation with Castro. His voice was respected in the State Department. U.S. recognition of the Castro government was prompt. Former Costa Rican President José Figueres, who had flown arms to Castro, came to Cuba to offer advice. American journalists wrote articles lauding Castro.

But Castro openly insulted Figueres and ignored Muñoz Marin, In July, a Cuban air force major, Pedro Luis Diaz Lanz, who had gone over to Castro’s rebels, deserted the Castro government and testified against it in the United States. Castro’s President, Manuel Urrutia, then called Diaz a traitor, denounced Senator James O. Eastland’s subcommittee for publicizing the traitor’s views — that Castro was Communist — and declared, “We have absolutely nothing to do with Communists.” Then Urrutia added, “The Communists have injured our country . . . they seek a second front . . . they attack the United States.” He promptly was forced out of the presidency, charged with having invited U.S. intervention and with “immoral” conduct — that is, accepting too much salary and living too well.

On the sixth anniversary of his initial abortive strike against Batista, Castro returned himself to power before a roaring million in Havana’s Civic Plaza. The crowd, with their machetes, had been assembled for his benefit; he had reconsidered after resigning to force out Urrutia. “Our symbol now is the machete!” he cried. “Let our critics abroad beware when they mouth calumnies against us.”

The removal of Urrutia, his replacement by Osvaldo Dorticos — the revolution’s theoretician — the mob scene, and the Castro challenge signaled a readiness to proceed with the remaking of Cuba at top speed and by force.

The second half of 1959 thus has been filled with the turmoil of Cuba’s reformation. It is as if Castro decided on July 26, when he accepted the machete mandate, that Cuba was to go it alone. One of the signs was Castro’s refusal to see the new American ambassador, Philip Bonsal, the State Department’s specialist in neighboring revolutionary regimes, who had forwarded a softly worded note questioning Cuba’s right to take away property from Americans without giving adequate compensation.

Bonsal finally saw Castro, after publicly threatening reprisals should he be kept waiting too long. There is no evidence that he succeeded in removing the men or the policies which caused the U.S. chief of naval operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke, to state in July: “The Communists will take over in Cuba.”

There is abundant evidence, however, that Fidel Castro never has been and is not a Communist or a dupe, although his brother, Raul, and his Argentine associate, Ernesto Guevara, may secretly belong to the party.

After Castro had been pardoned and released from a Batista military prison, he organized his invasion of Cuba in Mexico, and he toured U.S. cities to raise funds from Cubans. No one suggested that any Communist taint existed, and anti-Communist Cubans, living in exile, contributed to his war chest.

When he was back in Cuba, after an unlucky, mishandled landing, he failed to get support from recognizable Cuban Communists. The labor unions, for instance, did not help him at all. As Castro approached victory, a clandestine Communist publication pointedly asked why he thought his two calls for general strikes against Batista had failed. Their answer: because Castro had rejected Communists.

The Comrades reappear

After Castro’s victory, the Comrades rose to the surface with their Partida Socialista Popular, seizing possession — though they were later dislodged — of union headquarters and publishing their newspaper, Hoy. The party’s leaders, Blas Roca, Lazaró Peña, and Juan Marinello, reappeared. Castro reportedly referred to them as “harmless old reactionaries.” In May, they were visited by Vadim Kotchergin of Moscow, a Soviet “trade union delegate.” The deputy director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Service, General C. P. Cabell, told an American Legion group in August that Kotchergin had brought “guidance on how to penetrate and exploit the government of Fidel Castro. The Party’s primary targets,” said Cabell, “are the agrarian reforms, trade unions, and the army.”

These institutions, and the University of Havana, certainly are not now in the hands of the middle classes, from whence Castro originally drew his most effective revolutionary fighters, conspirators, and contributors. A dean and a professor resigned in October from the university faculty. Their statements hinted strongly that Communists had taken over the student body and were running the university. Many trade unions came under open or disguised Communist command, as they were under Batista.

Ernesto Guevara, the Argentine who joined Castro in Mexico after serving under the ousted left-wingers of Guatemala, in September was awarded the industrial division of the Agrarian Reform Institute, the organization designed to remake Cuban society in a hurry. Guevara has denied Communist membership. He is avowedly anti-American and obviously a Marxist.

The announcement of Guevara’s appointment was linked to the investigation of a Batista concession to an American company, Moa Bay Mining, of Cuba’s nickel and cobalt mines and oil refineries, valued at $75 million to $85 million, granted while Earl E, T. Smith, a New York— Florida broker, was the American ambassador in Havana. (Smith succeeded Arthur Gardner, Batista’s warm friend, in July, 1957.) Revision or cancellation of this concession may be accompanied by nationalization of large Anglo-American petroleum-processing firms, all as part of the agrarian reform.

The reform law sets a 999-acre limit on farms and a 3333-acre limit on ranches, the excess to be expropriated with bonds as compensation at values previously fixed by the owners for taxation purposes. The minimum per family is set at 67 acres, with the distribution to the landless to be made from the acquired lands. Share-cropping is banned and cooperative farming encouraged around government farm machinery centers.

The current Cuban pattern is to issue bonds, bearing 41/2 per cent interest and maturing in twenty years, in payment for acquired properties. An issue valued at $100 million was authorized in September. Gold shipments were halted earlier, and currency transactions have been controlled since the take-over; Batistianos fled with much Cuban currency, which they sold at cut rates to speculators who sought to reintroduce the tainted money into Cuba at a profit.

Firms and properties acquired under Batista through graft and kickbacks were also seized. They included hotels, air lines, investment firms, and construction engineering firms, some American operated.

Power through force

Castro maintains his unquestioned popularity via television, but his power rests on his armed forces. The Defense Minister is brother Raul, and Camilo Cienfuegos was militia army chief, until his disappearance in late October. Under Raul are some 33,000 men and boys: 9000 called national policemen; 6000 in the navy; and 18,000 in the militia army.

The army’s purge of 9000 this fall is charged against economy, but it could be political — the removal of men considered unreliable by Raul’s commissars. A more politically reliable army well may be needed if Castro carries out his threat to jail for up to three years those wealthy Cubans who continue to live as they have been living for decades. A major part of the austerity program is high tariffs to halt the importation of luxury goods.

The executions — about 550 Cubans have been shot by firing squads - are a major cause of the misunderstanding between Cubans and Americans. No American could uphold them. Yet most Cubans, whether for or against Castro, approved. On the day Raul Castro had some seventy-five men shot and killed near Santiago, the Havana magazine Bohemia published hundreds of photographs showing victims of torture, mutilation, and cold-blooded shooting by Batista’s policemen and soldiers. The publication said 20,000 Cubans had died in this way since 1952. And this reflected reality for the Cuban people, who seem to believe that there was a conspiracy to hide their sufferings under Batista and to accuse them unjustly of barbaric revenge under Castro.

There does exist a difference between what we know and what they know of their island society. For sixty years our association has been close; in the jet age, it is connubial. We have ruled out armed intervention in Cuba, a right we once reserved exclusively for ourselves. Only cooperation can replace the marines. If the Communists are tricking Fidel Castro, he must be made to see it.