2022 Volume 2022 Issue 207 Pages 207_97-207_112
In the 1950s, Cuba was Japan’s primary sugar supplier but maintained a protectionist policy that prevented the entry of Japanese textiles. This situation resulted in a constant trade deficit for the Japanese side. Thus, to resolve this situation, in July 1954, the Yoshida administration (1948–1954) sought to sign a trade agreement with Cuba that would eliminate such discriminatory policies and offered to Havana to buy a fixed annual amount of sugar. However, the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista (1952–1959) maintained a non-cooperative position. In the end, Japan canceled the negotiations, and both the trade deficit and the discriminatory policies continued for several years. This situation changed with the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolutionary government took a favorable position towards Japan. Thus, in June 1959, a Cuban mission headed by Ernesto “Che” Guevara visited Japan. The main goal of this “famous revolutionary” was to investigate the possibility of establishing a trade agreement with the Kishi administration (1957–1960) and guarantee the continuity of Japanese importing Cuban sugar. In the end, Japan could not sign the trade agreement with Guevara’s mission, but the Kishi administration understood that the Cuban revolutionary government was willing to negotiate. Thus, in February 1960, both countries began formal negotiations and two months later signed the Agreement on Commerce between Japan and the Republic of Cuba, eliminating the discriminatory policy.
In this sense, Guevara’s mission represented a turning point in postwar Japan-Cuban relations. However, many preliminary studies, especially the biography of Guevara written by Toru Miyoshi (1971), have considered that the Kishi administration had belittled Cuba. But, was this situation true? This paper seeks to reexamine Guevara’s visit through sources in the diplomatic research in Japan, Cuba, and United States, and demonstrate the importance of Japanese-Cuban relations in Japanese diplomatic history studies. It should be noted that there are few studies on Japanese diplomatic history towards Latin American countries, using primary diplomatic sources. This paper also seeks to contribute to the increase of new studies in that area.
The first section evaluates the literature about Guevara’s visit. Then, the second reconstructs the Japanese-Cuban relations before the Cuban Revolution, to demonstrate the existing conflict between Japan and Batista. Finally, the third section analyzes the Kishi administration policy towards Guevara’s mission.
The main conclusion is that the analysis of various diplomatic sources shows that the Kishi administration was interested in Cuban and wanted to complete a trade agreement. In this sense, Japan never actually looked down upon Guevara’s visit, as much of the literature has suggested.