Fidel Castro was born in August, 1926 in Cuba. In 1959, Castro successfully overthrew the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista through years of insurrections and guerilla warfare. Soon after, Castro became the leader of Cuba and started implementing communist policies. He initiated communications with the Soviet Union which caused tense relations with the United States. Two major historical events which occurred because of this tension were the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. During Castro’s presidency, improvements were made to health care and education in Cuba; however, many Cubans tried fleeing the country because of the dictatorial control of the government. Castro also encouraged communist revolutions in other countries. After Fidel Castro’s health continued to fail in his old age, he officially handed over ruling power to his younger brother Raúl Castro in 2008. Fidel died in November, 2016.
More In Depth. . .
Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926 in Birán, Cuba. He was the third of six children, consisting of his two brothers and three sisters. His father was a wealthy sugar plantation owner who came from Spain. His mother had been a maid to Fidel’s father’s first wife when Fidel was born. When Fidel was 15 years old, his father ended his first marriage and married Fidel's mother. Castro was raised in wealthy circumstances despite the poverty of Cuba. He was educated in private Jesuit boarding schools. Castro showed he was intellectually gifted, but was often times more interested in sports than studies. He was a student at Colegio Dolores in Santiago de Cuba and afterwards at El Colegio de Belén in Havana, where he played baseball, basketball, and track. After his graduation in 1945, Castro attended law school at the University of Havana and began focusing his studies exclusively on politics as he learned of Cuban nationalism, anti-imperialism and socialism (“Fidel Castro” 2016).
Interesting fact: Fidel Castro and I have the same birthday
Rising Political Involvement
Fidel Castro’s passion for social justice led him to be involved with many political insurrections. In 1947, he traveled to the Dominican Republic to join in an attempt to overthrow Dictator Rafael Trujillo. The attempted coup quickly failed, but it did not lessen Castro's desire for reform. The next year he traveled to the capital of Colombia to participate in anti-government rioting. Fidel also joined the Partido Ortodoxo, a political party aiming to reform the Cuban government. The party’s founder, Eduardo Chibás, swore to expose the government's corruption and warn the public about General Fulgencio Batista and his plan to return to power in Cuba.
Around the same time, Castro married Mirta Díaz Balart, who was from a wealthy political family. The marriage provided Castro with political connections which would later help him secure political power. He became interested in the work of Karl Marx and in running for a position in the Cuban congress. However, Castro would lose his political platform after a coup led by General Fulgencio Batista in March of 1952 overthrew the government and cancelled the upcoming election. In response to Batista setting himself up as dictator of Cuba, Castro and other members of the Partido Ortodoxo planned an insurrection. On July 26, 1953, Castro and about 150 supporters attacked the Moncada military barracks in an effort to overthrow Batista, but the attack failed. Castro was captured and sentenced to 15 years in prison along with his brother Raúl.
Revolutionary Campaign in Cuba
After being sent to prison for his attack on the Moncada military barracks, Castro renamed his group the "26th of July Movement". He coordinated its activities while imprisoned through communications with members outside the prison. He was eventually released in 1955 under an amnesty deal with the Batista government. Afterwards, Castro traveled with his brother Raul to Mexico where he met with other Cuban exiles to continue plans for a revolution. While in Mexico, an Argentinian rebel named Ernesto “Che” Guevara also joined their group and helped influence Fidel’s political beliefs.
On December 2, 1956, Fidel Castro returned to Cuba with about 80 other rebels and some weapons on a boat named the Granma. Batista's armies were able to kill or capture most of the attackers, but some managed to escape, including Castro, Raúl, and Guevara, into the Sierra Maestra mountain range. For the next two years, Castro's growing forces engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Batista government. In 1958, Castro and his forces began a series of military campaigns which successfully captured and held key areas throughout Cuba. The Batista government collapsed due to Castro’s efforts as well as the loss of support from the public and military. On New Years’ Day 1959, Fulgencio Batista fled to the Dominican Republic, and Fidel Castro successfully ended his revolutionary campaign to take control of Cuba. A temporary government was quickly put in place while Castro arrived to cheering crowds in Havana where he assumed the position of commander-in-chief of the military. However, in February the prime minister suddenly resigned, and Castro was sworn in as Cuba's prime minister. In the meantime, Che Guevara oversaw the trials and executions of hundreds from Batista's government.
Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis
The United States became more concerned as Castro’s executive and economic policies continued to follow a communist style of control. The Cuban government also began establishing relations with the Soviet Union. On January 3, 1961, U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower cut off diplomatic ties with Cuba, and on April 14, Castro officially declared Cuba as a socialist state. On April 17-19, 1961, in an event known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the United States attempted to overthrow the Cuban government by sending about 1,400 military trained Cuban exiles to the island. The invasion was a disaster for the U.S. with hundreds of the insurgents killed and around 1,100 captured. Through an extensive secret intelligence network, the Cuban government was able to know the attack was coming ahead of time. The United States denied any involvement with the invasion, but it became clear the Cuban exiles had been trained by the CIA and were armed with American weapons. The incident helped Castro to strengthen his leadership in Cuba and his relations with the Soviet Union. At the end of the year, Castro announced himself as a Marxist-Leninist and that the Cuban government was adopting communist economic and political policies. In February of 1962, the United States put a full economic embargo in place on Cuba which has continued to the current day.
As a result of the Bay of Pigs Invasion and secret attempts made on Fidel Castro’s life by the CIA, Castro turned to the Soviet Union for economic and military aid. Castro and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev decided to place USSR nuclear missiles in Cuba hoping to prevent another U.S. invasion. Khrushchev justified this plan because of the U.S. Jupiter missiles which had been placed in Turkey. An American U-2 spy plane found the base before the missiles were installed which caused great alarm for the United States. The secret communications between President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev concerning the nuclear missiles lasted from October 16-28, 1962. This standoff was known in America as the Cuban Missile Crisis and was said to be the most dangerous event in human history. In the end, the Soviets agreed to remove their missiles from Cuba on the condition that the U.S. would not invade Cuba again and would, in time, remove their Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Fidel Castro was left out of the negotiations as he had no power concerning the nuclear missiles, and was left humiliated after the event.
President of Cuba
“Castro's regime has been credited with opening 10,000 new schools and increasing literacy to 98 percent. Cubans enjoy a universal health-care system, which has decreased infant mortality to 11 deaths in 1,000” (“Fidel Castro” 2016). More emphasis seems to be placed; however, on the negative actions of the Cuban government. Civil liberties were taken away as the one-party government exercised dictatorial control over political, economic, and cultural life. Castro did not tolerate political dissent or opposition. He suppressed those involved with such activities though executions and imprisonments. From the start of the revolution to the current day, Cubans would flee the country to seek refuge from the dictatorship. Hundreds of thousands would arrive in Miami believing one day they could return to their homeland after the fall of the Castro regime. “The largest of these exoduses occurred in 1980, when Castro opened up the port of Mariel to allow exiled Cubans living in Miami to come claim their relatives. Upon their arrival, Castro also loaded the ships with Cuban prison inmates and mentally ill people. In all, nearly 120,000 Cubans left their homeland in 1980 to find sanctuary in the United States” (“Fidel Castro” 2016). This large influx of exiles put a strain on the United States’ capacity for immigration. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 ended subsidies to Cuba and the Cuban economy suffered. The country lost a majority of its imports and exports with one of the most important being oil. Castro responded to the declining economy and food shortages by lessening government restrictions on the economy and allowing more tourism to the country.
On July 31, 2006, Fidel Castro passed power on temporarily to his brother Raúl so he could recover from surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding. Raúl had been serving as Fidel's second in command. This was the first time since the 1959 revolution that Fidel had given up power. After his surgery, public appearances were limited to photographs and video recordings of private meetings. On February 19, 2008, Fidel Castro announced he would not accept another term as president because of his worsening physical condition. Raúl Castro was officially elected as president of Cuba during the same month. Fidel still maintained a degree of political influence even while not in office. Fidel Castro died on November 25, 2016. Nine days of mourning followed his death, and Cubans lined up to pay their respects at a memorial in the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana. Meanwhile, Cuban exiles in the U.S. celebrated the death of the dictator.
Fidel Castro elevated himself from prisoner to leader of a country through his determination and charisma. He ruled as the President of Cuba for 32 years and his actions have influenced many different countries and countless individuals. Different opinions were held about Fidel Castro, but he was undeniably a prominent figure in world history.