Fidel Castro was a very important figure in Cuban history. Though not everyone may agree with his political platform and his radical ideas, Fidel’s leadership has influenced almost every aspect of Cuba and its culture. This presentation outlines Fidel’s life and explains who and what shaped Fidel Castro.
Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926 in Biran, Cuba.
He was the third of 6 children with two brothers and three sisters. Castro’s father, Angel, was a wealthy land owner from Spain who operated a sugar plantation. When Fidel was born, his mother, Lina Ruz Gonzalas was a maid to Angel's first wife Maria Luisa Argota. It wasn’t until Fidel was 17 years old that he was recognized by his father and his last name was changed from Ruz to Castro (Brown).
Growing up in a wealthy family influenced Castro. Later in his life Fidel recalled, “Everyone lavished attention on me, flattered, and treated me differently from the other boys we played with when we were children. Those other children went barefoot while we wore shoes” (Brown).
Fidel began attending school in the nearby town of Marcane at the age of four. From a young age, he felt he was intellectually superior and as he discovered more of his talents he developed unshakable self-confidence (Brown).
While attending school in Marcane, Fidel would often get into violent arguments with his teacher Miss Felieu that often ended with him running away and cursing at her. Miss Felieu convinced Fidel’s parents that he along with Ramon and Angela should be sent away to Santiago de Cuba to school (Brown).
Fidel was educated by a tutor in Santiago de Cuba and then attended two boarding schools before being sent to El Colegio de Belen which was a school run by Jesuits in the country’s capital, Havana.
In 1945, Fidel began his studies at the University of Havana where he studied law. It was during this time that he became very interested and involved with politics and he became a staunch anti-imperials and a critic of the United States. He plunged himself in student government, winning the election as the representative of the law schools freshman’s class.
In the summer of 1947, Castro took part in his first revolution to dispose the Dominican Republic dictator Rafae Trujillo. Castro could not resist the prospect of action and loved standing against causes he was passionate about. This began Castro’s involvement with several violent demonstrations. Also around this time, Fidel began following the works of Karl Marx and embraced Marxism (Fidel Castro).
In 1948 Fidel Castro married Mirta Diaz Balart who was from a wealthy political family in Cuba. The marriage provided Castro with wealthy political connections. Fidel and Mirta had one son named Fidel, in 1949. They later divorced in 1955 (Brown and Padgett).
On July 26, 1953, Castro and about 150 fellow members of a group called the Partido Ortodox organization, attacked the Moncada military barracks just outside of Santiago de Cuba in an attempt to overthrow Batista. The attempt failed and Castro was sentence to 15 years in prison along with his brother Raul Castro. They were released two years later in 1955 and they traveled to Mexico so they could plan their revolution (Fidel Castro).
While in Mexico, Fidel met Ernesto “Che” Guevara who believed in violent revolution. Guevara became a very close friend of Fidel’s and he was very influential in shaping Fidel’s beliefs (Fidel Castro). Castro departed for his Mexican exile with the firm intention of preparing to invade Cuba and initiate guerrilla actions (Trento).
December 2, 1956, Castro and 81 other would-be revolutionaries land in Cuba on the ship "Granma." Most are routed, but 12 survivors - including Castro, his brother Raul Castro and Argentine Ernesto "Che" Guevara - regroup in Sierra Maestra Mountains where they launch a guerrilla war. On January 1, 1959, Batista flees from Cuba to the Dominican Republic (Pro Quest).
Jan. 8, 1959 - Castro enters Havana after triumphal journey across Cuba. As supreme "Comandante" of the armed forces, he begins the political, economic, and social transformation of Cuba, launching agrarian reform and nationalizing most foreign and local businesses (Pro Quest).
The year 1961 was pivotal in Castro’s relationship with the United States. Due to the unrest and strained relationship, the US breaks ties with Havana in 1961. Castro then formally declared Cuba as a socialist state. On April 19, 1961, Castro directed troops in the defeat of an invasion attempt by some 1,400 U.S. backed Cuban exiles, at what is known as the Bay of Pigs. By the next year the United States imposed a full economic embargo. Castro had even more resentment and hatred towards the United States and this influenced many of his political decisions and helped consolidate his power and further promote his agenda (Fidel Castro and Pro Quest).
The Bay of Pigs divided the relationship with Cuba and the United States even farther; However, at the same time, it also intensified Cuba’s relations with the Soviet Union. Castro and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev formed an alliance and they came up with the plan on placing nuclear missiles in Cuba just 90 miles from the coast of Florida. In response, President Kennedy and Khrushchev came up with the agreement that if the Soviets removed the missiles, the United States would publicly agree not to invade Cuba. During this event known as the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union completely left Castro out of the negations which was humiliating for Castro (Fidel Castro).
Castro did not stay humiliated for long, in October 1965 Castro founded a new Cuban Communist Party, and he is named the First Secretary (Timeline). By creating this one-party government, Castro is able to exercise dictatorial control over all aspects of Cuba including their political, economic, and cultural life. If anyone opposed, they were ruthlessly suppressed.
The upper and middle class of Cuba felt betrayed by Fidel who came to power promising to restore the 1940 constitution and create an honest administration, reinstate full civil and political liberties, and undertake moderate reforms. Once Castro was established as Cuba’s leader, he began to pursue more radical policies (Britanica).
Under Castro’s leadership, the country’s social services were extended to all classes of society equally. Both educational and health services were made available to Cubans free of Charge. Castro is credited with opening 10,000 new schools and increasing literacy to 98 percent. Yet the Cuban economy still struggled to grow due to Castro’s struggle with being a strong economic manager. Cuba was still heavily subsidized by the Soviet government during this time period (Fidel Castro and Britanica).
Castro removed opposition to his rule through executions and imprisonments, The Cuba Archives estimates that tens of thousands were murdered, with a documented 5,600 killed by firing squads alone. During Castro’s rule, hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled the country, many settling just across the Florida Straits in Miami (Fidel Castro).
With the Soviet Union demise, Cuba’s economy tanked even more. The Castro brothers, “kept the state afloat by allowing foreign investment in hotels and resorts, but that created what critics called a tourism apartheid, a Cuba where foreigners ate lobster at swank restaurants but Cubans were lucky to eat rationed meat once a week” (Padgett).
For the next few decades, Fidel rallies for Cubans to embrace the socialist government. At the age of 75, in June 2002, Castro led a march of one million Cubans along the Havana waterfront in campaign to defend the socialist system in spite of growing opposition from outside countries (Timeline).
July 31, 2006, Castro is forced to hand over the reins of power to his brother Raul Castro due to his decline in health. On 19 February 2008 Fidel officially resigns as Cuba’s president (Khan and Timeline).
November 25, 2016, Fidel Castro dies. The announcement of his passing was made by his brother Raul who ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: “Towards victory, always!” (Khan).
Regardless of whether Fidel’s actions are believed to be wrong or right, there is no disputing that Fidel was an influential leader. Though the country of Cuba struggled under Fidel’s reign and there were many controversial decisions made, Fidel was confident in himself and did what he believed to be right no matter what others around him may have felt.
Like stated before, some of the greatest influences on Fidel Castro were Karl Marx and the Marxist ideas, and the ideas of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Castro used Karl Marx’s ideas as a model of how to run Cuba. He changed the country with his left winged radical views. Also, Guevara was influential to Castro because he encouraged and urged radical revolution. Guevara was seen as the poster boy of Fidel Castro’s Cuban communist revolution.
Castro ruled over Cuba for nearly five decades. “His personality was such that he always saw himself as the man on the horse, the only guy who could possibly do what he has done,” said Dennis Hays, a former chief Cuba analyst at the State Department. “In his mind, he was the only one who could hold back the tides of time and human nature as he has” (Gomez).
Few other world leaders in history could boast the longevity or influence of the iconic bearded, cigar-chewing Cuban dictator (Gomez).
Brown, Warren. Fidel Castro: Cuban revolutionary. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1994. Print.
"Fidel Castro." Biography.com. A&E Networks Television, 05 Dec. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. <http://www.biography.com/people/fidel-castro-9241487#decline-in-health>.
Gomez, Alan. "Fidel Castro: Among world's most influential leaders for a half-century." USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 26 Nov. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/11/26/cuban-dictactor-fidel-castro-dies-90/94462814/>.
Pro Quest. Fidel Castro's political life 19 Feb. 2008: 1. Print.
Khan, Shehab. "Fidel Castro dies: Timeline of key events in Cuba under the former leader." The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 26 Nov. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/fidel-castro-dies-timeline-key-events-cuba-under-former-leader-a7440511.html>.
Padgett, Tim. "Fidel Castro 1926-2016. (Cover Story)." Time, vol. 188, no. 24, 12 Dec. 2016, pp. 40-45. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=119865924&site=ehost-live.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Fidel Castro." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 03 Feb. 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Fidel-Castro>.
"TIMELINE: Key events in Fidel Castro's life." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 20 Feb. 2008. Web. 14 Mar. 2017. <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-castro-chronology-idUSN1922589220080220>.
Trento, Angelo. Castro and Cuba: from the revolution to the present. Northhampton, MA: Interlink, 2000. Print.