Castro’s full name was, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz. He was born on August 13, 1926, in Biran, Holguin Province, Cuba, and he died on November 25, 2016 in Havana Cuba, thus marking his life span as 90 years long. His body now rests in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, in Santiago de Cuba.
Over Fidel Castro’s life, he went through a series of events that led to him being a major figure in Cuban History. In February of 1959, Fidel Castro was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Cuba, making him the ruler and dictator over the country. He reigned for almost five decades! That’s almost 50 years long! In 2008, Castro handed off his role and power to his younger brother Raul Castro, who is now the current president of Cuba, and claims to be stepping down at the end of his second term in the year 2018. During the reign of Fidel Castro, many events took place that went down in Cuban History. Let’s take a look back on his life and see what events in his life, may have influenced the decisions and actions that took place while he was president that caused these historical events to happen.
Fidel Castro was the illegitimate son of Angel Castro y Ariz. Fidel’s Father, Angel Castro, was born in Spain, into a poor family, and later conscripted to fight in the Cuban war of Independence, and the Spanish American War, where the United States of America took control over Cuba for a short time. Angel Castro went to Cuba and started a sugar cane farm business. In 1911 he married María Luisa Argota Reyes, and had 5 children with her. Later on, Angel Castro separated from his wife and began a relationship with a women who was 27 years younger than he was. Her name was Lina Ruz Gonzalez. Angel had 7 children with her, and this is where Fidel Castro came in. He was her third son with Angel, born out of wedlock. Because Fidel was illegitimate, he took on his mother’s surname of Ruz. So that explains where the Ruz in his name comes from.
At only age 6, Fidel Castro and a couple of his siblings were sent off to live with their teacher who dwelled in Santiago de Cuba. Here, they lived in very poor conditions. They didn’t have enough to eat, and they were very, very cramped and squished. Try to imagine your 6 year old self, being sent away from your parents and home, (In his case, his father’s farming business had become very successful, but he still made sure that Fidel stayed with many of the African immigrants working on the farm, which I can imagine was like slavery, because many Africans were slaves back in this day.) But imagine being sent away to live with someone you didn’t know very well, and it was a struggle to even eat enough food to get by. He was only 6 years old!
At age 8, Fidel was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. Even though Castro later became an atheist (one who doesn’t believe in God), he was still able to attend a boarding school in Santiago because he had been baptized into a Catholic church. While attending this school, Castro was not very well behaved, and ended up getting sent to a different school because of all his misbehaving incidents. This school was privately funded, and existed also in Santiago. In 1945, which would have made him 19 years old, he transferred to El Colegio de Belen in Havana. (He went to college in Havana). Castro was very academically smart, and learning about multiple topics such as history, geography, and debate interested him. However, rather than pursuing any of these academics, he focused on sports. Later on, during this same year (1945) Fidel went to the University of Havana and started to study law. He took great interest in the student protest movement under the regimes of Cuban Presidents. While studying at the University of Havana, Castro became involved in different groups that protested and tried to fight for a change in government. Because Castro didn’t agree with intervention from the United States, and he was passionate about anti-imperialism, he joined the “University Committee for the Independence of Puerto Rico and the Committee for Democracy in the Dominican Republic.” Castro had a strong opposition towards corruption which stemmed from the United States intervention in Cuba. Throughout history, the United States of America has tried to intervene and from their perspective, help Cuba. In many cases this didn’t turn out all that great and just lead to a barrier of hatred between Cuba and America. So much so, that for a long period of time, Americans weren’t even allowed to travel to Cuba.
Castro became involved in movements to overthrow governments and rulers. In 1947, Castro caught wind of a plan to go and overthrow the ‘right wing military junta of Rafael Trujilo, in the Dominican Republic.’ Rafael Trujilo was a dictator who would cause people who opposed to be secretly murdered or tortured. When this mission was launched, it was soon made known that the Dominican, along with the United States, were prepared, and destroyed the rebellion. Many of the participants in this rebellion were captured and arrested because they couldn’t escape quick enough. Castro however, was able to escape and swam to shore. I think that this experience may have prepared Fidel Castro for the Bay of Pigs Invasion, which took place when he was the president of Cuba. We’ll get deeper into that event later on, but keep this rebellion in mind for when we come to it.
Between the years of 1948-1950, Castro returned to Cuba and married Mirta Diaz Balart. This marriage was true love, and not approved by either one of their families. During these years, Castro moved further more towards the left wing in politics. He liked the ideas of Marxism and was influenced by Karl Marx. Castro believed that the problems occurring in Cuba were because of the capitalism. He didn’t like the inequality he was seeing, and therefore continued to participate in movements to try and change it.
In 1952, Castro wanted to run for congress. However, the people didn’t like that and nominated him as a candidate for the House of Representatives instead. While Batista was in power during this time, Castro tried to get him charged with criminal offenses that had been committed, which were deserving of imprisonment. As this didn’t work, Castro became determined to find a way to overthrow this new government. This led to the 26th of July Movement. The name originated after Castro tried to overthrow the government on July 26, 1953, which failed and led to his 15 year imprisonment. Castro was released early in 1955 because he didn’t seem a threat anymore. A few years later however, he attempted a revolution to overthrow Batista. This revolution was inspired by the 26th of July movement, and took place on January 1, 1959, and it succeeded. The goals of this movement were to obtain more equality such as a distribution of land to the poor, public services, honest elections, etc. Now, Batista was forced out, and Castro was sworn in.
After all his work, trial and error, and many failed attempts, Castro became the Prime Minister of Cuba, and later officially became president. While he was in reign, he improved education and literacy. He also “established the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere.” Cuba went through drastic changes once Castro was put in power. He became a dictator, and wanted complete control. In fact, those who opposed his government were tortured, imprisoned, and even killed. Looking back on Castro’s earlier life, we can see where possibly his determined, and controlling nature came from. His father for example came from a poor family, and worked his way up to a wealthy farmer. Like his father, Castro slowly worked his way up the political ladder, until he reached the top. During his younger years, he was the leader of many movements and organizations. He took place in attacks and saw people being tortured and killed. While participating in these roles of leadership and events that took place, we can imagine that he gained a desire to have power and control.
A huge even that took place while Castro was president was the Bay of Pigs Invasion. This happened on April 17, 1961. Cuban exiles that were exiled to America, attempted and invasion at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, orchestrated by U.S. president John F. Kennedy. This invasion was counting on the help of the Cuban population that were still in Cuba under the reign of Casto. However, once Castro caught word of what was going on, he was prepared. He gave his troops orders, and they obeyed. This caused the invasion to fail, and caused humiliation to Kennedy. Remember back when we talked about the failed attack that Castro participated in? That may have given him experience to be prepared in a situation like the Bay of Pigs. He saw first had how the Dominican was prepared when they went to attack.
One last event that we’ll cover is the Cuban Missile Crisis, also known as the Cold War. This event was a turning point for the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. The Soviet Union agreed to place missiles on Cuba’s island to help prevent invasions. The U.S. then created a nuclear blockade around Cuba and demanded that the missiles be removed. This caused a lot of tension. 13 days passed with the missiles pointing. The world was on the brink of a nuclear war! Finally Soviet president Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles if the U.S promised to not invade Cuba again. The U.S. also agreed to remove their missiles in Italy and Turkey that were against the Soviet. This event caused tension between the U.S. and Cuba, and up until recently, Americans weren’t allowed to enter Cuba.
Throughout Castro’s life, many events took place that led to him becoming the President of Cuba, and gave him experience for the position. We can see how some of his earlier experiences shaped his decisions and actions as president. He clearly was a major figure in Cuba and will remain so in the History of it. His life will be taught and learned about by many, and many events in Cuban history happened because of him and his decisions as a ruler.