Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (born August 13, 1926) is a Cuban revolutionary and politician, having held the position of Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, and then President of Cuba from 1976 to 2008. He also served as the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party from the party's founding in 1961 until 2011. Under his direction, the Republic of Cuba became a Leninist party-state, with industry and business being nationalised under state ownership and socialist reforms implemented in all areas of society.
On the international stage, he also served as the Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1979 to 1983 and 2006 to 2008.
Born the illegitimate son of a wealthy farmer, Castro became involved in leftist anti-imperialist politics while studying law at the University of Havana. Involving himself in armed rebellions against right-wing governments in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, he concluded that the U.S.-backed Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, who was widely seen as a dictator, had to be overthrown; to this end he led a failed armed attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. Imprisoned for a year, he traveled to Mexico, and with the aid of his brother Raúl Castro and friend Che Guevara, assembled a group of revolutionaries, the July 26 Movement. Returning with them to Cuba, he took a key role in the Cuban Revolution, leading a successful guerrilla war against Batista's forces, overthrowing him in 1959 against the odds. Castro subsequently became Commander in Chief of the Cuban armed forces and shortly thereafter became Prime Minister. The United States was alarmed by his involvement in the overthrow of Batista and relationship with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, implementing an economic blockade of the island. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower also ordered the CIA to overthrow him, which they unsuccessfully tried through multiple assassination attempts and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. To counter this threat, Castro forged an economic and military alliance with the Soviet Union and allowed them to store nuclear weapons on the island, leading to the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Adopting Marxism-Leninism as his guiding ideology, in 1961 Castro proclaimed the socialist nature of the Cuban revolution, and in 1965 became First Secretary of the newly founded Communist Party, with all other parties being abolished. He then led the transformation of Cuba into a socialist republic, nationalising industry, introducing free healthcare and education, and suppressing internal opposition. A keen internationalist, Castro introduced Cuban medical brigades who worked throughout the developing world, and aided foreign revolutionary socialist groups in the hope of toppling world capitalism, thereby involving Cuba in the Angolan Civil War and the Ogaden War between Ethiopia and Somalia. In 1976 he stepped down as Prime Minister to become President of both the Council of State and Council of Ministers. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Castro led Cuba into its economic "Special Period", before taking the country into the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas in 2006 and forging alliances with other nations in the Latin American "Pink Tide". Amidst failing health, in 2006 Castro transferred his responsibilities to Vice-President Raúl Castro, who was then elected President when Fidel stepped down in 2008.
Castro is a controversial and highly divisive world figure, being lauded as a champion of anti-imperialism, humanitarianism, socialism and environmentalism by his supporters, but his critics have accused him of being a dictator whose authoritarian administration has overseen multiple human rights abuses both at home and abroad. A prolific author on various topics, he has had a significant influence on the politics of various individuals and groups across the world, including senior leaders like Nelson Mandela, Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales.
Childhood and Education: 1926–1945Edit
Castro's father, Ángel Castro y Argiz (1875–1956), was born into a poor peasant family in rural Galicia, in celtic northern Spain. After emigrating to Cuba he worked as farm laborer. In 1895 he was conscripted into the Spanish Army to fight in the Cuban War of Independence against the Cuban revolutionaries who wished to secede from the Spanish Empire. Wishing to gain greater influence in the Caribbean, the United States subsequently declared war on Spain, leading to the Spanish-American War of 1898, in which the U.S. seized control of Cuba, setting up their own government on the island. In 1902, the Republic of Cuba was proclaimed, however it remained only partially independent of the U.S., which retained economic and political dominance over it. For a time, Cuba enjoyed economic growth, and Ángel Castro decided to migrate there permanently in search of employment. Doing so, he undertook various jobs, eventually earning enough money to set up his own business growing sugar cane on a farm in Birán, near Mayarí in Oriente Province.
Ángel took a wife, María Luisa Argota, with whom he had two daughters, but they separated after several years and he began a relationship with a household servant who was thirty years his junior. This woman, Lina Ruz González (September 23, 1903 – August 6, 1963), came from an impoverished Cuban family of Canarian descent, but became Ángel's domestic partner, bearing him three sons and four daughters.
Fidel was Lina's third child, being born at his father's farm on August 13, 1926, and was given his mother's surname of Ruz rather than his father's because he had been born out of wedlock, something that carried a particular social stigma at the time. Although he was from a prosperous background, with his father's business proving ever more profitable, his father ensured that he grew up alongside the children of the farm's workforce, many of whom were Haitian economic migrants of African descent, something that Fidel would later relate prevented him from absorbing "bourgeois culture" at an early age. Aged six, Fidel, along with his elder siblings Ramón and Angela, was sent to live with their teacher in Santiago de Cuba, and it was here that the children dwelt in cramped conditions and in relative poverty, often failing to have enough to eat because of their tutor's poor economic situation. Aged eight, Fidel was then baptized into the Roman Catholic Church, although later gave up his faith in Christianity, becoming an atheist. Being baptized enabled Fidel to begin attending the La Salle boarding school in Santiago, but here he often got into trouble with the school authorities for misbehavior, and so he was instead sent to the privately-funded, Jesuit-run Dolores School in Santiago.
In 1945 he transferred to the more prestigious Jesuit-run El Colegio de Belén in Havana. Although Fidel took an interest in history and debating at Belén, he did not excel academically, instead devoting much of his time to playing sport, including swimming, mountain climbing, table tennis, athletics, basketball and baseball. Meanwhile, Ángel Castro finally dissolved his first marriage when Fidel was fifteen, allowing him to marry Fidel's mother; Fidel was formally recognized by his father when he was seventeen, when his surname was legally changed from Ruz to Castro.
University and early political activism: 1945–1947Edit
In late 1945, Castro began studying law at the University of Havana. Here he became immediately embroiled in the student protest movement, which in Cuba at that time was particularly volatile: under the regimes of centre-left Cuban Presidents Gerardo Machado (1925–1933), Fulgencio Batista (1933–1944) and Ramón Grau (1944–1948) there had been a government crackdown on student protesters, with student leaders being killed or terrorized by violent gangs. This led to a form of gangsterismo culture within the university that was dominated by a variety of violent and often armed student groups who spent much of their time fighting one another and running criminal enterprises rather than opposing the government. Becoming surrounded by this gang culture, Castro focused on political objectives, unsuccessfully campaigning for the position of President of the Federation of University Students (FEU). To do so he put forward a platform of "honesty, decency and justice" and emphasized his opposition to political corruption, something that he increasingly associated with the involvement of the U.S. government in Cuban politics. He became passionate about anti-imperialism and opposing U.S. intervention in the Caribbean, joining the University Committee for the Independence of Puerto Rico and the Committee for Democracy in the Dominican Republic.
He was in contact with members of several student leftist groups at the time, including the Popular Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Popular – PSP), the Socialist Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Socialista Revolucionaria – MSR) and the Insurrectional Revolutionary Union (Unión Insurrecional Revolucionaria – UIR), although did not adopt the Marxist ideas of the former and mistrusted some of MSR's connections to the Grau government. Castro had become critical of the corruption and violence of Grau's regime, delivering a public speech on the subject in November 1946 that earned him a place on the front page of several newspapers. Instead, it was to the UIR that he grew closest to, although whether he ever became a member or not has remained unknown. In 1947, Castro joined a newly founded socialist group, the Party of the Cuban People (Partido Ortodoxo), which had been formed by veteran politician Eduardo Chibás (1907–1951). A charismatic figure, Chibás attracted many Cubans with his message of social justice, honest government, and political freedom. The Partido Ortodoxo publicly exposed corruption and demanded governmental and social reform. Though Chibás lost the election, Castro, considering Chibás his mentor, remained committed to his cause, working fervently on his behalf.
Meanwhile, the student gang violence had escalated after Grau employed several prominent gang leaders, including members of the MSR, as officers in the police force, and Castro soon received a threat urging him to either leave the university and its political arena or be killed. He did not give in to the threat, instead carrying a gun and surrounding himself with friends who were similarly armed. Various accusations would arise in later years alleging that Castro carried out gang-related assassination attempts at this time, including of prominent UIR member Lionel Gómez, MSR leader Manolo Castro and university policeman Oscar Fernandez, but these are supported by "scant evidence" and remain unproven.
Latin American rebellions: 1947–1948Edit
In June 1947, Castro learned of a planned international expedition to invade the Dominican Republic and overthrow its right-wing president, Rafael Trujillo, a military general widely seen as a dictator who had overseen a system of "repressive brutality" through the use of a violent secret police which routinely murdered and tortured opponents. An ally of the United States, Trujillo angered many across the world when he ordered the Parsley Massacre that killed 20,000–30,000 impoverished Haitian migrants. Castro had become a heavy critic of Trujillo's regime, rising to the presidency of the University Committee for Democracy in the Dominican Republic, and decided to join the military expedition, which was led by General Juan Rodríguez, a Dominican exile, and supported by Grau's Cuban government which feared Trujillo's militaristic behavior. The invasion was carried out on July 29, 1947, by around 1,200 men, most of whom were exiled Dominicans or Cubans, although other volunteers came from across Latin America. However, both Dominican and U.S. intelligence had gained foreknowledge of the event, and it was soon quashed by the Dominican army and the Cuban government, who had been pressured by the U.S. to cease their support for it. Whilst Grau's government immediately arrested many of those involved, Castro managed to escape the police by jumping off of the naval frigate he was aboard and swimming to shore in the dark of night.
The botched mission only served to further Castro's opposition to the Grau administration, and returning to Havana, he took a leading role in the student protests that were centred against the killing of a high school pupil by government bodyguards. The protests, accompanied by a U.S.-imposed crackdown on those considered to be communists, led to violent clashes between protesters and police in February 1948, in which Castro was badly beaten. It was at this point that his public speeches took on a distinctively leftist slant, condemning the social and economic inequalities of Cuba under the Grau government, something that was in contrast to his former public criticisms, which had centered around condemning corruption and U.S. imperialism. Castro's biographer Leycester Coltman would later remark that "Castro was not yet expressing a Marxist viewpoint, but he was moving in that direction."
After a quick visit to Venezuela and Panama, in April 1948 Castro traveled to the city of Bogotá in Colombia with a number of other Cuban students on a trip sponsored by the government of Argentine President Juan Perón, whose anti-imperialist politics impressed Castro. Once there, the assassination of popular leftist leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Ayala led to widespread rioting that came to be known as the Bogotazo. Leaving three thousand dead, the riots revolved around clashes between rightist Conservatives, who then controlled the country's government and who were backed by the army, and leftist Liberals who were supported by a number of Colombian socialist groups. Castro, along with his fellow Cuban visitors, joined in in support of the Liberal cause by stealing guns from a police station, but subsequent police investigations came to the conclusion that neither Castro nor any of the other Cubans had been involved in the killings.
===Marriage and Marxism: 1948–1950===
Returning to Cuba, Castro became a prominent figure in the widespread protests against the government's attempts to raise bus fares, with buses being the only form of transport available to most students and workers. It was also in 1948 that Castro married Mirta Díaz Balart, a student from a wealthy Cuban family through whom he was exposed to the lifestyle of the Cuban elite. The relationship was a love match and was disapproved of by both of their families. Mirta's father gave them tens of thousands of dollars to spend in a three-month honeymoon in New York City, and the couple also received a U.S. $1,000 wedding gift from the military general and former president Fulgencio Batista, a friend of Mirta's family. That same year, Grau decided not to stand for re-election, and his party instead nominated Carlos Prío Socarrás as their presidential candidate. Prío would go on to win the election, becoming President of Cuba. However, he faced widespread protests when members of the MSR, which by this time was allied to the police force, assassinated Justo Fuentes, a "self-taught black man" and prominent member of the UIR who was a friend and ally of Castro's. In response, Prío agreed to try to quell the gangs, but found them to be too powerful to control.
Castro had begun to move further to the left in his political views, being influenced by the writings of prominent Marxists like Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Lenin. He came to interpret the problems facing Cuba as being an integral part of capitalist society, or the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie", rather than the failings of corrupt politicians. Coming to believe the Marxist idea that true political change could only be brought about by a revolution led by the working class, Castro set about visiting Havana's poorest neighbourhoods, witnessing the nation's huge social and racial inequalities, and became active in the University Committee for the Struggle against Racial Discrimination.
In September 1949, Mirta gave birth to a son, Fidelito, and so the couple moved to a larger flat in Havana. Despite the need to care for his family, Castro continued to put himself at risk, staying active in the city's political arena and joining a new organisation, the September 30 Movement, which contained within it both communists and members of the Partido Ortodoxo. The group's purpose was to oppose the influence of the violent gangs within the university; despite his promises, President Prío had failed to control the situation, instead offering many of their senior members jobs in government ministries. Castro volunteered to deliver a speech for the Movement on November 13, in which he exposed the government's secret deals with the gangs and identified many of their key members. Attracting the attention of the national press, the speech angered the gangs, and Castro was forced to go into hiding, first in various rural areas and then in the U.S. Returning to Havana several weeks later, Castro layed low and focused on his university studies, graduating from university as a Doctor of Law in September 1950.
Career in Law and Politics: 1950–1952Edit
Now a Doctor of Law, Castro became a professional lawyer, founding his own legal partnership with two fellow leftist students, Jorge Azpiazu and Rafael Resende, whose intention was to focus on helping poor Cubans in asserting their rights. It was a financial failure, with its main client being a timber merchant who paid them in timber to furnish their office. Castro cared little for money or material goods, something his wife found difficult, particularly when their furniture was reposessed and their electricity cut off, in both instances because Castro had failed to pay his bills.
Castro remained active in politics, taking part in a high-school protest in Cienfuegos in November 1950 that involved students fighting a four-hour battle with police in protest at the Education Ministry's ban on the founding of student associations in schools. He was arrested and charged with using violence against police officers, but the magistrate later dismissed the charges. He also became an active member of the Cuban Peace Committee, a part of the international campaign led by British intellectual Betrand Russell to oppose western involvement in the Korean War. His hopes for Cuba still largely centred around Eduardo Chibás and his left wing Partido Ortodoxo; however Chibás had made a mistake when he accused Education Minister Aureliano Sánchez of purchasing a Guatamalan ranch with misappropriated funds, but was unable to substantiate his allegations. The government used this as an opportunity to go on the offensive against Chibás, accusing him of being a liar and a troublemaker. In 1951, while running for president again, Chibás shot himself in the stomach during a radio broadcast in an attempt to issue a "last wake-up call" to the Cuban people. Castro was present and accompanied him to the hospital where he died of his injuries.
Although his political views were further left than the Partido Ortodoxo, Castro believed that those parties on the far left, namely the PSP, were too unpopular to achieve a revolutionary leftist movement in Cuba, and for this reason remained in the Ortodoxo. Seeing himself as the heir to Chibás, Castro wanted to run for Congress in the June 1952 elections, but senior party members feared his radical reputation and refused to nominate him. Instead he gained the support of enough Ortodoxo members in Havana's poorest districts to be nominated as a candidate for the House of Representatives, and put all his energies into campaigning. It was at the time that Castro held a meeting with General Fulgencio Batista, the former president who had recently returned to politics by winning a seat in the Senate and founding the Unitary Action Party; although they both opposed the Prío administration, their meeting never got beyond "polite generalities" with no indication that they would later become bitter enemies.
The Ortodoxo had gained a considerable level of support, and there was a "fair chance that the Ortodoxos and Castro would both have succeeded in the election." However, this was quashed in March 1952 when General Batista seized power in a military coup, removing the widely discredited President Prío from office, who then fled to Mexico. Subsequently declaring himself president, Batista cancelled the planned presidential elections, describing his new system as "disciplined democracy": Castro, like many others, instead saw it as the establishment of a one-man dictatorship with no benefit to the Cuban populace. Although in his earlier democratic terms as president Batista had taken a centre-left stance, he now moved to the right and went on to solidify his ties with the United States, severing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, suppressing trade unions and persecuting socialist groups in Cuba. Intent on opposing the Batista administration, Castro brought several legal cases against them, arguing that Batista had committed sufficient criminal acts to warrant at least 100 years imprisonment and accusing various ministers of breaching labour laws. These came to nothing, leading Castro to begin thinking of alternative ways to oust the new government.
- Main article: Cuban Revolution
===The Movement and the Moncada Barracks attack: 1952–1953===
Dissatisfied with the Ortodoxo's policy of non-violent opposition to Batista's regime, Castro formed a group known simply as "The Movement". Consisting of both a civil and a military committee, the former conducted political agitation through an underground newspaper, El Acusador (The Accuser), while the latter armed and trained recruits to take violent action against Batista. With Castro as the Movement's head, the organisation was based upon a clandestine cell system, with each cell containing ten members, none of whom knew the whereabouts or activities of the other cells. A dozen individuals formed the nucleus of the movement, many of whom were also dissatisfied Ortodoxo members, although from July 1952 the Movement went on a recruitment drive, and within a year it had around 1,200 members, organised into over a hundred cells, with the majority of members coming from the poorer districts of Havana. Although Castro's political ideology was that of revolutionary socialism, he avoided an alliance with the communist PSP, fearing that this would frighten away the political moderates who were members of the Movement, but did keep in contact with some of the PSP's members, who included his brother and fellow conspirator Raúl. He would later relate that the members of the Movement were on the whole simply anti-Batista, and few had strong socialist or anti-imperialist views, something which Castro attributed to "the overwhelming weight of the Yankees' ideological and advertising machinery" which he felt had suppressed class consciousness amongst Cuba's working class.
Castro's Movement was not the only militant group that wanted to oust Batista. One of the Orthodoxo's founding members, the Professor of Philosophy Rafael García Bárcena, had founded the National Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Nacional Revolucionaria – MNR). Consisting largely of middle-class members, it contrasted with Castro's predominantly working class support base. In March 1953, the MNR had planned to attack and seize control of the barracks at Camp Colombia, but police had been alerted to the plot, with the conspirators being rounded up and tortured. In all, fourteen people were sentenced to imprisonment for the attack. Meanwhile, Castro had been having similar ideas, stockpiling weapons in order to lead the armed wing of the Movement in an attack on the Moncada Barracks, a military garrison just outside Santiago de Cuba in Oriente. The plan was for Castro's members to dress in army uniforms and arrive at the base in cars on July 25, the festival of St James, when many of the officers would be on leave or celebrating in the nearby town. The rebels would then seize control of the barracks before the alarm could be raised, raid the armoury and then escape before the army could bring in reinforcements. Supplied with a wealth of new weaponry, Castro believed that the Movement could arm local supporters and spark a revolution in Oriente, which was dominated by a population of impoverished cane-cutters. The plan was to then seize control of a radio station in Santiago, from which the Movement could broadcast their manifesto and promote widespread uprisings against Batista. In doing so, Castro's plan was directly emulating those of the 19th century Cuban independence fighters who had raided Spanish barracks, and in keeping with this Castro saw himself as the heir to independence leader and national hero José Martí, both leading national liberation struggles against foreign dominance.
Castro had gathered together 165 members of the Movement to take part in the mission, 138 of which were stationed in Santiago, with the other 27 instead positioned in Bayamo. The majority of them were young men from Havana and Pinar del Río, and Castro ensured that, with the exception of himself, none of the volunteers had children. The plan had been carefully orchestrated, and Castro ordered his troops not to cause bloodshed unless they met armed resistance. The attack took place on July 26, 1953, but before it had even begun it ran into trouble; of the sixteen cars that had set out from Santiago, one broke down on the way and two others got separated from the main convoy. When they eventually reached the barracks, further problems arose and soon the alarm was raised by the guards, with most of the rebels being pinned down outside of the base by machine gun fire. Those that managed to get inside faced heavy resistance, and four of them were killed by gunfire before Castro, realising that he was heavily outnumbered, ordered his men to retreat. In the attack, the rebels had suffered 6 fatalities and 15 other casualties, whilst the government forces had faced a heavier toll, with 19 dead and 27 wounded. Meanwhile, some of the other rebels had taken over a civilian hospital, but as the main attack on the barracks failed, government soldiers stormed the hospital, rounding up the rebels, before torturing them for information and finally summarily executing 22 of them without trial. Those rebels that had been able to escape, and who included both Fidel and his brother Raúl, had assembled at their base, the Siboney Farm, where some debated surrender, while others wished to flee to Havana. Accompanied by 19 comrades, Castro however decided to set out for the rugged Gran Piedra mountains several miles to the north, where they could establish a guerrilla base and continue their revolutionary activities.
In response to the Moncada attack, Batista's government ordered a violent crackdown on all dissent (orchestrated by both the army and the SIM police), declaring martial law and imposing strict censorship on the media. Government propaganda began broadcasting misinformation about the event, claiming that the rebels had murdered patients in the civilian hospital and asserting that the Movement was a communist group financed by the exiled President Prío (ignoring the fact that the latter was a fierce anti-communist). Despite this censorship, news and photographs soon spread of the army's use of torture and summary executions in Oriente, causing widespread public and even some governmental disapproval.
===Arrest and trial: 1953===
Over the next few days all of the rebels hiding in the mountains were rounded up by government forces and transported to a prison north of Santiago, although Castro was not executed on the spot as many of his comrades had been. Believing that Castro had been incapable of planning the attack by himself, the government accused politicians from the Ortodoxo and communist PSP of being involved in masterminding the attack, and in all 122 defendents, amongst them Castro, were put on trial on September 21 at the Palace of Justice in Santiago. Although censored from reporting on it, journalists were permitted to attend the proceedings, which proved an embarrassment for the Batista administration. Acting as his own defence council, Castro convinced the three presiding judges to overrule the army's decision to keep all defendants handcuffed in court, before proceeding to argue that the charge with which they were all accused – of 'organising an uprising of armed persons against the Constitutional Powers of the State' – was incorrect, for they had risen up not against the Constitutional Powers of the State but against Batista, who had seized power in an unconstitutional manner. When asked who was the intellectual author of the attack, Castro claimed that it was the long deceased national icon José Martí, before quoting some of Martí's works that justified uprisings against tyrannical regimes.
As the trial went on, knowledge of the torture that army officers inflicted on their captives emerged. These included castration using a razor and the gouging out of eyes with bayonets; the judges agreed that full investigations into these crimes would have to be undertaken. These revelations proved to be a great embarrassment to the army, who tried unsuccessfully to prevent Castro from testifying any further by claiming that he was too ill to leave his cell. The trial came to an end on October 5, with all of the politicians and many of the rebels being acquitted, although 55 were sentenced to prison terms of between 7 months and 13 years. Castro was sentenced separately, on October 16, during which he proceeded to deliver a speech that would later be printed under the title of History Will Absolve Me. Although the maximum penalty for leading an uprising was a 20 year prison sentence, Castro was sentenced to 15 years, being imprisoned in the hospital wing of the Model Prison (Presidio Modelo) on the Isla de Pinos, sixty miles off of Cuba's southwest coast.
Imprisonment and the July 26 Movement: 1953–1955Edit
Imprisoned in the Presidio Modelo with 25 of his fellow conspirators, Castro devoted himself to politics once more, changing the name of the Movement to the "July 26 Movement", in memory of the date of the failed Moncada attack. Forming a school for prisoners, the Abel Santamaría Ideological Academy, Castro organised five hours a day of teaching, with himself and other Movement members lecturing on such subjects as ancient and modern history, philosophy and the English language. Making use of the prison library and gifts from friends outside of prison, he continued reading widely, enjoying the works of Marx, Lenin, and Martí but also reading books by Sigmund Freud, Immanuel Kant, William Shakespeare, Axel Munthe, Somerset Maugham and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, analysing most of them within a Marxist framework. He corresponded with those outside of prison, trying to maintain control over his Movement without giving too much away to the prison censors, who read all of his letters, and also organised the publication of his History Will Absolve Me speech. Although at first having a fair amount of freedom within the prison, this came to an end after prison inmates embarrassed the guards by singing anti-Batista songs on a visit by the President in February 1954. In retaliation, the prison authorities removed most of the privileges that Castro and other prisoners were allowed, locking Castro up in solitary confinement indefinitely.
Meanwhile, Castro's wife Mirta, who did not share his obsession with political activism, had gained employment in the Ministry of the Interior, thereby working for Batista's government. She had been encouraged to do by her brother, who had been a friend and ally of Batista for many years. This was kept a secret from Castro, who eventually found out through a radio announcement. Appalled, he raged that he would rather die "a thousand times" than "suffer impotently from such an insult". Both Fidel and Mirta initiated divorce proceedings, with Mirta taking custody of their son Fidelito; this angered Castro, who did not want his son growing up in a bourgeois environment.
In 1954, Batista's government went ahead with their earlier promises and held presidential elections, but no politician had risked standing against Batista lest they face violent reprisals. Batista won comfortably, but the election was widely recognised as fraudulent. It had however allowed some political opposition to be openly voiced, and supporters of Castro and his Movement had begun agitating for an amnesty for all those imprisoned over the Moncada incident. Some government politicians suggested that such an amnesty would provide good publicity, and the Congress and Batista eventually agreed. Backed by the U.S. government and major corporations, Batista believed that Castro would be no political threat to his regime, and on May 15, 1955 the prisoners were released.
Returning to Havana, Castro was met by his supporters, being carried along on the shoulders of students, and set about giving various radio interviews and press conferences. Now a single man again, Castro had sexual affairs with a number of women, including one of his devout supporters, Naty Revuelta, who conceived him a child named Alina, and another of his supporters, Maria Laborde, who conceived another child, Jorge Angel Castro. He also set about to strengthen his anti-Batista revolutionary Movement, welcoming members of the now defunct MNR into it, and establishing an eleven-person National Directorate of the 26 July Revolutionary Movement (or MR-26-7). Despite these structural changes, there was still dissent within the group, with some members questioning Castro's autocratic leadership. Castro dismissed their proposals for the leadership to be transferred to a democratic board, arguing that a successful revolution could not be run by a committee. Some of them subsequently abandoned the MR-26-7, labeling Castro a caudillo (dictator), although the majority accepted his reasoning and remained loyal.===Mexico and guerrilla training: 1955–1956===
In 1955, a series of bomb attacks and violent demonstrations against Batista's administration led to a crackdown on dissent in Cuba, with Castro being placed under armed guard by his supporters as protection from possible assassination attempts. His brother Raúl was accused of one bomb attack and fled the county, with Fidel deciding to follow on July 7. Those members of the MR-26-7 that remained in Cuba were left with orders to prepare cells for revolutionary action in all of the country's main towns and cities, and await Castro's return, when he would bring with him an army to topple Batista. He sent a letter to the country's political leaders and the press, declaring that he was "leaving Cuba because all doors of peaceful struggle have been closed to me. Six weeks after being released from prison I am convinced more than ever of the dictatorship's intention, masked in many ways, to remain in power for twenty years, ruling as now by the use of terror and crime and ignoring the patience of the Cuban people, which has its limits. As a follower of Martí, I believe the hour has come to take our rights and not beg for them, to fight instead of pleading for them."
The Castro brothers and a number of other MR-26-7 members travelled to Mexico, a country with a long history of offering asylum to left-wing exiles. Raul had befriended one such exile, an Argentine doctor and Marxist-Leninist named Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1928–1967), who was a proponent of guerrilla warfare and who was keen to join the Cuban Revolution as a part of his deeply held belief in overthrowing U.S. imperialism in Latin America. Upon meeting Guevara, Fidel took a liking to him, later describing him as being "a more advanced revolutionary than I was." Another socialist revolutionary whom Castro began associating with was the Cuban-born Spaniard Colonel Alberto Bayo (1892–1967), who had fought for the leftist Republican side in the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s, before being exiled upon the victory of the fascist General Francisco Franco and his Falange. Bayo agreed to teach Fidel's rebels the skills in guerrilla warfare that they would need if they were to return to Cuba to battle Batista, clandestinely meeting them at various premises.
In desperate need of money to finance his activities, Castro went on a tour of the United States in search of wealthy sympathizers, including the exiled former President Prío (who contributed the considerable sum of $100,000), during which time he was monitored by agents of Batista's government who at one point allegedly orchestrated a failed plot to kill him. These agents also bribed Mexican police to arrest Castro and other MR-26-7 members in the country, but ultimately the revolutionaries were all released, particularly as several members of the Mexican government sympathized with their cause. Castro had also kept in contact with the MR-26-7 agents who had remained in Cuba, where they had succeeded in getting a large clandestine support base in several towns in Oriente. Other militant groups had also sprung up to oppose Batista within the country, primarily from the ranks of the student movement; most notable of these was the Revolutionary Directorate (DR), which had been founded by the Federation of University Students (FEU) President José Antonio Echevarría. Echevarría traveled to Mexico City to meet with Castro, but the two disagreed widely on tactics, with Castro opposing with the young student's policy of supporting indiscriminate assassinations of anyone in the government.
Purchasing a decrepid old yacht, the Granma, it was on the 25 November 1956 that Castro set sail from Tuxpan in Veracruz, Mexico with a group of 81 revolutionaries, armed with 90 rifles, 3 machine guns, around 40 pistols and 2 hand-held anti-tank guns. The 1,200 mile crossing to Cuba was harsh, and in the overcrowded conditions of the ship (which was designed to hold around 20 passengers), many of the men suffered from seasickness, and food supplies began to run low. At some points they had to bail water caused by a leak, and at another a man fell overboard, delaying their journey. The plan had been for the journey to take five days, and on the Granma's scheduled day of arrival, 30 November, members of the MR-26-7 in Cuba under the leadership of Frank Pais led an armed uprising against government buildings in Santiago, Manzanillo and several other towns. However, the crossing in the Granma ultimately lasted for seven days, and with Castro and his men unable to provide immediate back-up, Pais and those MR-26-7 members under his leadership dispersed to their homes after two days of intermittent attacks, having "suffered very few casualties and arrests".===Guerrilla war in the Sierra Maestra: 1956–1958===
The Granma landed in Cuba on 2 December 1956, crashing in a mangrove swamp at Playa Las Coloradas, close to Los Cayuelos. Batista's forces had been expecting them, and within several hours of their arrival they were bombarded from a naval vessel. Fleeing inland, they headed for the Sierra Maestra in Oriente, a large forested mountain range from where they could lead a guerrilla war against Batista. At daybreak on 5 December they were unexpectantly attacked by a detachment of Batista's Rural Guard; in the confusion, the rebels scattering into different groups which continued making their journey to the Sierra Maestra independently. With only two comrades, Castro made it to the mountains, along the way meeting up with others who had survived the attack; ultimately it was discovered that of the 82 rebels who had arrived on the Granma, only 19 had made it to the Sierra Maestra, the rest being killed or captured by Batista's forces.
Setting up an encampment in the thick jungle of the Sierra Maestra, the survivors, who included Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raúl Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos, began launching attacks on small army posts in the region in order to steal weaponry. In January 1957 they attacked the outpost near to the beach at La Plata, defeating the soldiers stationed there. Being a doctor, Guevara treated the soldiers for any injuries, but the revolutionaries executed the local mayoral (land company overseer) Chicho Osorio, who was despised by the local peasants and who had boasted of killing one of the MR-26-7 rebels several weeks previously. The execution of Osorio aided the rebels in gaining the trust of local people, who typically hated the mayorals as enforcers of the much-despised wealthy landowners. Nonetheless, the locals were initially unenthusiastic in their support for the guerrillas, viewing them with suspicion as outsiders. As trust grew between the two communities, some locals joined the rebels, although the majority of new recruits came from urban areas, travelling to the Sierra Maestra in order to aid the revolutionary effort. With rising levels of support and increasing number of volunteers joining the rebel army, which now numbered over 200, in July 1957 Castro eventually divided his men into three columns, keeping charge of one and giving control of the others to his brother and Che Guevara. The MR-26-7 members operating in urban areas continued agitating against the government, sending supplies to the Sierra Maestra rebels and on 16 February 1957 Castro met with other leading members of the group to discuss tactics; it was here that he met Celia Sánchez, who would become a close friend.
The Cuban Revolution was not contained to the MR-26-7, and across Cuba militant groups were beginning to rise up against Batista. Most notably, Echevarría and his DR had been carrying out bombings and acts of sabotage, leading the police to respond with mass arrests, the torture of suspects and extra-judicial killings. In March 1957 the DR launched an attack on the presidential palace, with Batista himself narrowly surviving. The rebels were eventually defeated, and Echevarría was shot dead by police in the street as he attempted to issue a radio broadcast. His death would prove beneficial for Castro, removing a charismatic rival to his leadership of the anti-Batista movement. Although already a Marxist-Leninist, Castro kept his beliefs a secret from many of the MR-26-7, something in contrast to Guevara and Raúl, whose beliefs were well known. In this way he hoped to gain a wider support base amongst those of other political persuasions, and in 1957 he met with leading members of the Partido Ortodoxo. Castro and the Ortodoxo leaders Raúl Chibás and Felipe Pazos drafted and signed a document called the Sierra Maestra Manifesto in which they laid out their plans for a post-Batista Cuba. Rejecting the idea that Cuba should be run by a provisional military junta following Batista's demise, it demanded that a provisional civilian government be set up that was "supported by all" and which would implement agrarian reform, industrialisation and a campaign to wipe out illiteracy before introducing "truly fair, democratic, impartial, elections".
Batista's government censored the Cuban media, and so Castro felt it would be beneficial to reach out and contact foreign media sources in order to spread his message. A U.S. journalist from the The New York Times named Herbert Matthews came to interview Castro, attracting international interest to the rebel's cause and turning him into a celebrity. The New York Times front page story presented Castro as a romantic and appealing revolutionary, and exaggerated the number of troops and resources that he had at his command, with Matthews declaring that "Batista cannot possibly hope to suppress the Castro revolt". Soon, other reporters followed in Matthews' footsteps by travelling to the Sierra Maestra to interview Castro, sent by such news agencies as CBS, while a reporter from Paris Match stayed with the rebels for around 4 months, documenting their daily routine. The number of attacks that Castro's guerrilla's undertook against military outposts in and around the mountains increased, forcing the government to withdraw from all its posts in the region. By the spring of 1958 the rebels controlled all of the mountainous areas in Oriente province, controlling a hospital, schools, a printing press, slaughterhouse, land-mine factory and a cigar-making factory.
Countering Operation Verano: 1958 Edit
President Batista was coming under increasing pressure by 1958. His army's military failures in Oriente, coupled with his censorship of the media and the repressive techniques of torture and extra-judicial killings employed by the police and armed forces were being increasingly criticised both at home and abroad. Influenced by a wave of anti-Batista sentiment amongst their citizens, the U.S. government made the decision to stop supplying him with weaponry, which he had been using against the rebels, leading him to instead begin buying arms from the United Kingdom. The opposition used this as an opportunity to rise up across the country, proposing a general strike which would be accompanied by armed attacks from the MR-26-7. The strike began on 9 April, and while receiving strong support in the centre and east of Cuba, in Havana and other urbanised western parts of the country most workers continued working as usual.
Batista's response was to launch an all-out-attack on Castro's guerrilla forces, known as Operation Verano. The army began aerial bombardment of forested areas and villages that were suspected of aiding and hiding the militants, whilst 10,000 soldiers under the command of General Eulogio Cantillo surrounded the Sierra Maestra, driving north to the areas where the rebels were camped. Despite their massive superiority of numbers and weaponry, the army were at a disadvantage, having no experience with guerrilla warfare or the mountainous region. Castro, who by this time had around 300 men at his command, avoided open confrontation, instead using land mines and ambushes to halt the enemy offensive. The army suffered heavy losses and a number of embarrassments; in June 1958 a battalion was trapped in a valley by the rebels and forced to surrender. Their weapons were confiscated, and they were handed over to the Red Cross. In the summer, the MR-26-7 went on the offensive, pushing the government forces back, out of the mountain range and into the lowlands, with Castro using his columns in a pincer movement to surround the main army concentration in Santiago. By November, Castro's forces had most of Oriente and Las Villas under his control, and although the capitals of Santiago and Santa Clara remained in government hands, their grip on them was slipping.=== Batista's fall and Cantillo's military junta: 1958–1959 ===
The U.S. government had come to realise that Batista would probably lose the war, and fearing that Castro, under the influence of known Marxist-Leninists like Che Guevara, would displace U.S. interests with socialist reforms, they decided to support Batista's removal in support of a military junta led by centrist or right wing officers, believing that General Cantillo, who then commanded most of the country's armed forces, would be best placed to lead it. After being approached with this proposal, Cantillo decided to secretly meet with Castro to see if they could bring an end to the fighting, and ultimately it was agreed that the two would call a ceasefire, following which Batista would be apprehended and tried as a war criminal. Double crossing Castro, Cantillo warned Batista of the revolutionary's intentions. Wishing to avoid a war crimes tribunal, Batista resigned on 31 December 1958, informing the armed forces that they were now under Cantillo's control. With his family and closest advisers, Batista then fled into exile, taking with him an amassed fortune of more than US$ 300,000,000. The following morning Cantillo entered the Presidential Palace in Havana, proclaimed the Supreme Court judge Carlos Piedra to be the new President, and began appointing new members of the government.
Still in Oriente, Castro was furious at Cantillo's actions, recognising it as the establishment of a military junta. He told his troops to end the ceasefire and continue on the offensive against government forces. The MR-26-7 put together a plan to oust the Cantillo-Piedra junta, freeing the high ranking military officer Colonel Barquin from the Isle of Pines prison (where he had been held captive for plotting to overthrow Batista), and commanding him to fly to Havana to place Cantillo under house arrest. While there was widespread celebrations as news of Batista's downfall spread across Cuba on 1 January 1959, Castro gave an order to MR-26-7 members to take on the responsibility of policing the country, in order to prevent the widespread looting and vandalism that he had witnessed in the Bogotazo.
Whilst Cienfuegos and Guevara led their columns of soldiers into Havana onto 2 January, Castro entered Santiago, where he accepted the surrender of the Moncada Barracks, before giving a speech to the assembled crowds in which he invoked the 19th century wars of independence against the Spanish Empire. He proceeded to speak out against the Cantillo-Piedra junta but highlighted that the majority of soldiers in the armed forces were honourable, and that only the few who had committed human rights abuses would be brought to justice. He also praised the role that women had played in the MR-26-7, and proclaimed that they would have equal rights in the new Cuba. Castro immediately became a heroic figure to the Cuban people, striking a "Christ-like figure" and wearing a medallion of the Virgin Mary, with cheering crowds meeting him at every town on his way to Havana. Along the way he gave speeches, press conferences and interviews, with U.S. and other foreign reporters noting that the public adulation of Castro was on an unprecedented scale.
Provisional government: 1959Edit
In the Sierra Maestra, Castro had made his opinion clear that the lawyer Manuel Urrutia Lleó (1901–1981) should be the new Cuban president and leader of a provisional civilian government. An established figure, Urrutia had defended several MR-26-7 revolutionaries in court during the Batista administration, and it was for this reason that Castro believed he would make a good leader. Following the house arrest of Cantillo and the ensuing collapse of the junta, Urrutia proclaimed himself to be provisional president, based purely on the support of Castro and his rebels rather than on any democratic consensus. On January 8, 1959, Castro's army rolled victoriously into Havana, and he would shortly thereafter declare that "power does not interest me, and I will not take it." In Havana, Castro set up both home and office in the penthouse of the Havana Hilton Hotel, there meeting with journalists, foreign visitors and government ministers.
While he officially had no role within the provisional civilian government, in reality Castro exercised a great deal of political control, largely because of his overwhelming popularity with the Cuban populace and his control of the armed forces. He ensured that the government implemented a number of policies designed to cut corruption and fight illiteracy, but did not initially force through any radical proposals. He ordered a temporary ban on all political parties, but claimed that the government would get around to organising multiparty elections, albeit failing to specify a particular date. He began secretly meeting with leading members of the banned Cuban Communist Party, believing that they had the intellectual capacity to form a socialist government where the MR-26-7 did not. He nonetheless kept his true political persuasions a secret from the public eye, and repeatedly denied being a communist.
Popular uproar across Cuba demanded that those figures of the Batista administration who had been complicit in the widespread torture and killing of civilians be brought to justice. Castro helped to set-up trials of such individuals across the country, resulting in hundreds of executions. Critics, in particular from the U.S. press, argued that many of these did not meet the standards of a fair trial, and condemned Cuba's new government as being more interested in vengeance than justice. Castro retaliated strongly against such accusations, proclaiming that "revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction". In a show of support for this "revolutionary justice", he organised the first Havana trial to take place before a mass audience at the Sports Palace; when a group of aviators accused of bombing a village were found not guilty, he ordered a retrial in which they were instead found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
An argument between Castro and senior government figures broke out when the government banned the National Lottery and closed down the casinos and brothels that had flourished under Batista's regime. While agreeing that gambling and prostitution should be eradicated, Castro was furious with the manner in which this law had been passed, leaving thousands of Cuban waiters, croupiers and prostitutes unemployed, usually with no other skills to fall back on. As a result of the argument, Prime Minister José Miró Cardona resigned, going into exile in the U.S. and involving himself in the militant anti-Castro movement.
PremiershipEdit===Consolidating leadership: 1959===
On February 16, 1959, Castro took the vacancy left by Cardona, being sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba. One of his first acts as Prime Minister was to visit the United States between 15 and 26 April, accompanied by a delegation of industrial and diplomatic representatives. Castro hired one of the country's best public relations firms for a charm offensive, appearing as a "man of the people" by answering impertinent questions jokingly and eating hot dogs and hamburgers. The U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower of the Republican Party, avoided meeting with Castro, who instead met with Vice President Richard Nixon. Rather than returning straight to Cuba, Castro traveled to Canada, Trinidad, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, attending an economic conference in Buenos Aires, where he unsuccessfully proposed that the U.S. fund a "Marshall Plan" for Latin America.
Castro took a great interest in rural life, and appointed himself to the presidency of the newly created National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA). On 17 May 1959, Castro signed into law the First Agrarian Reform, which limited landholdings to Template:Convert per owner and forbade foreign land ownership. As a result, all of the large land-holdings were broken up, and the land redistributed to the peasants who worked it; an estimated 200,000 peasants received title deeds as a result of its implementation. To Castro, this was an important progressive step, breaking the control of the wealthy landowning class over Cuba's agriculture; it proved popular among the working class, but also alienated many in the middle classes who had previously supported Castro.
Although at the time he refused to categorize his regime as socialist, Castro appointed known Marxists to senior positions throughout Cuban society. He controversially appointed Che Guevara, an Argentinian with no training in economics, to the position of Governor of the Central Bank and then Minister of Industries, while Marxists took control of most of the country's trade unions. Castro appointed Marxists to senior positions in the armed forces, leading to a backlash from various high ranking anti-communist officers; the commander of the Air Force, Díaz Lanz and his chief of security, Frank Sturgis, soon defected to the U.S., calling for the U.S. to do something before a Marxist government took over in Cuba. These defections were denounced by President Manuel Urrutia Lleó, but he too publicly expressed concern with the rising influence of Marxism. This angered Castro, who publicly announced that he was resigning from his position as Prime Minister because Urrutia "complicated" government, arguing that the president's "fevered anti-Communism" was having a detrimental effect. Castro's sentiments received widespread support as organized crowds of over half a million Castro-supporters surrounded the Presidential Palace demanding Urrutia's resignation, which was duly received. On July 23, Castro resumed his position as premier and appointed Osvaldo Dorticós as the new president.
Castro's regime remained highly popular with workers, peasants and students, all of whom had benefited from its policies. Nonetheless, opposition continued to grow, particularly within the Cuban middle classes, with thousands of educated doctors, engineers and other professionals emigrating to Florida in the U.S., causing a brain drain on the island's economy. Militant anti-Castro groups sprung up, undertaking armed attacks against government forces, with some setting up guerrilla bases in Cuba's mountainous regions. They were funded and armed by various foreign sources, including the exiled Cuban community, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Dominican government of General Trujillo. Castro's government began a crackdown on the opposition movement, labeling it counter-revolutionary, and arresting hundreds of opponents. Although it rejected the methods of physical torture which had been employed by Batista's regime, Castro's government sanctioned the use of psychological torture, including solitary confinement, rough treatment, hunger and threatening behaviour of civilians by state security forces. After conservative editors and journalists had become more hostile towards the government following its leftward turn, the pro-Castro printers' trade union began to harass and disrupt editorial staff. In January 1960 the government proclaimed that each newspaper would be obliged to publish a "clarification" written by the printers' union to the end of any articles which were critical of the government. This would prove to be the start of press censorship in Castro's Cuba.===Soviet support and U.S. opposition: 1960===
At the start of the 1960s, the Cold War was raging between the Earth's two great superpowers, the United States, a liberal democracy with a capitalist economy, and the Soviet Union, a Marxist-Leninist one-party state with a socialist economy. Castro had long expressed contempt for the U.S. government and their support of Batista's regime, as well as their imperialist and exploitative attitude towards Cuba, while he shared the ideological views of the Soviet government. As early as July 1959, Castro's intelligence chief Ramiro Valdés had contacted a Soviet KGB agent in Mexico City. Castro subsequently met with another agent operating in Havana, and discussed the possibility of initiating a trading relationship with the Soviet Union (USSR). Meeting with Soviet First Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan, Castro agreed to provide the USSR with sugar in return for crude oil, fertilizers and industrial goods.
The Cuban government ordered the country's refineries (then controlled by the U.S. corporations Shell, Esso and Standard Oil) to process this Soviet oil, but under pressure from the U.S. government, they refused. Castro responded by expropriating the refineries and nationalizing them under state control. In retaliation, the U.S. cancelled its import of Cuban sugar, provoking Castro to nationalize most U.S.-owned assets on the island, including banks and sugar mills. Relations between Cuba and the U.S. were further strained following the explosion and sinking of a French vessel, the Le Coubre, in Havana harbor in March 1960. Carrying weapons purchased from Belgium, the cause of the explosion was never determined, but Castro publicly accused the U.S. government of sabotage. Secretly, on 17 March 1960, President Eisenhower authorized the CIA to covertly overthrow Castro's government, permitting them to ally with the Mafia criminal organization in doing so; the Mafia despised Castro for closing down their casinos and other businesses in Cuba. In October 1960, the U.S. government then prohibited most exports to Cuba, marking the start of an economic embargo that would devastate the island's economy for decades to come.
In September 1960, Castro flew to New York City for the General Assembly of the United Nations. Taking offence at the attitude of the elite Shelburne Hotel, he and his entourage instead stayed at a cheap, run-down hotel in the impoverished area of Harlem. Here, he met with a number of journalists as well as anti-establishment figures like the African-American leader Malcolm X. At the hotel he was also visited by the Soviet Premier, Nikita Khruschev, and the two leaders used the occasion as a press opportunity to highlight the poverty faced by many U.S. citizens in areas like Harlem; Castro would later describe New York as a "city of persecution" in reference to the treatment of working class and African-Americans by the establishment. Relations between Castro and Khrushchev were warm, with the two leading the applause to one another's speeches at the General Assembly. Although Castro still publicly denied being a Marxist or even a socialist, Khrushchev would privately inform his entourage that the Cuban would become "a beacon of Socialism in Latin America."
Returning to Cuba, Castro feared that the U.S. would attempt to overthrow his government, and so purchased tanks and other weaponry from the Soviets. In September 1960, he created the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, a nationwide organisation of civilian groups who implemented neighborhood spying in an effort to weed out "counter-revolutionary" activities and who could back up the regular army in the case of invasion. Eventually, 80% of the Cuban population would be involved in these Committees. By the end of 1960, all opposition newspapers had been closed down and all radio and television stations were in state control, run under the Leninist principle of Democratic Centralism. Moderates, teachers and professors were purged. He was accused of keeping about 20,000 dissidents held captive and tortured under inhuman prison conditions every year. Health care was socialised.===The Bay of Pigs Invasion: 1961===
By January 1961, the U.S. Embassy in Havana had 300 staff, of whom 80% were believed by Castro to be spies. He ordered the Embassy to reduce its size to match that of the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C. The U.S. response was to cut off all diplomatic relations with Cuba, with the CIA increasing its support for militant dissidents in exile. Such dissident groups began attacking ships trading with Cuba, and organised raiding parties to destroy Cuban factories and sugar mills in an attempt to disrupt the island's economy. Under the Eisenhower administration, the CIA had organised a plan to invade Cuba using exiled Cuban dissidents as soldiers, thereby avoiding an international condemnation that would have arisen if they used U.S. troops. Following the election of Democratic Party nominee John F. Kennedy as U.S. President in 1961, the CIA gained his support for continuing with the plan, which would result in the Bay of Pigs Invasion of April 1961. Brigade 2506, made up of around 1,400 Cuban dissidents, divided into five infantry and one paratrooper battalions, had assembled in Guatemala, a U.S. ally, before being transported to another pro-U.S. state, Nicaragua, from which they set off aboard seven ships toward Cuba on 13 April. On 15 April, eight CIA-supplied B-26 bombers took off from Nicaragua and bombed three Cuban military airfields, damaging runways and fighter plains, as well as killing 7 and injuring 52. The U.S. government immediately proclaimed that the bombers had belonged to Cuba's air force and had been commandeered by dissidents who wanted to defect to the U.S.; in retaliation, Castro publicly went on state television to denounce their claims, providing evidence to expose their misinformation.
Castro feared that the bombing was a prelude to an invasion, putting the armed forces on maximum alert and ordering the arrest of anyone suspected of having counter-revolutionary sympathies. This constituted at least 20,000 people, who were detained in prisons, theatres and sport centres. At the funerals of the dead airmen on 16 April, he publicly proclaimed that "What the imperialists cannot forgive us, is that we have made a Socialist revolution under their noses." This was his first ever declaration that the Cuban revolutionary movement was socialist in character, and he proceeded to declare that his movement was "a revolution of the humble, with the humble, for the humble, democratic and Socialist."
At night, the invasion fleet landed in Cuba largely undetected along the narrow inlet known as the Bay of Pigs. A local revolutionary militia opened fire on the invaders, but was forced back by heavy fire from the landing craft. Castro had not expected this to be their landing site, and as a result it was a poorly defended stretch of coast. He ordered Captain José Ramón Fernández to launch an immediate counter-offensive, and ordered the country's small airforce to destroy the Brigade 2506's ships which contained weapons, food and medical supplies for the dissidents. Eventually taking direct command of the operation, Castro oversaw the counter-offensive, bringing in reinforcements and tanks to use against the rebel army. President Kennedy was unwilling to directly intervene with U.S. military support, and so on 20 April, 1189 men of the Brigade 2506 surrendered to the Cuban army.
Celebrating his victory, Castro ordered that the rebels be interrogated on live television by a panel of journalists. He himself took over the questioning on 25 April, walking in among them with a microphone and asking them why they had taken part in the invasion. 14 of them were then put on trial for crimes that they allegedly committed before the revolution, while all of the others were returned to the U.S. in exchange for medicine and food valued at around U.S. $25 million. Castro's victory was a powerful symbol for his supporters, both at home and across Latin America, but also served to increase some internal opposition, particularly among the thousands of primarily middle-class Cubans who had been detained in the run-up to the invasion. Although most were freed within a few days, many decided to flee Castro's Cuba for Florida.
===Embracing Socialism: 1961–1962===
Following the Bay of Pigs Invasion, on May Day 1961, Castro officially declared the Cuban government to be socialist. Castro founded a new political organisation, the ORI, under which he united the MR-26-7, the Communists and the Revolutionary Directorate. The Soviet government were hesitant over Cuba's open adoption of socialism, fearing U.S. retaliation, but relations between the two nations deepened, with Castro supporting the USSR during the Sino-Soviet Split and sending his son Fidelito to be schooled in Moscow. In December 1961, Castro officially proclaimed himself to be a Marxist-Leninist, and in his subsequent Second Declaration of Havana called on the peoples of Latin America to rise up in violent revolution against their governments. In response, the Organisation of American States, which was dominated by the U.S., expelled Cuba. The Soviet government privately reprimanded Castro for being reckless, believing that other Latin American governments would now crack down on Communist parties in their countries.
Castro's government brought in measures to shape society using the Soviet model, persecuting both political opponents and perceived social deviants such as prostitutes and homosexuals. Castro expressed the opinion that homosexuality was a bourgeois decadence absent from working class rural areas, proclaiming that "in the country, there are no homosexuals". Members of his government spoke out against the treatment of gay people, noting the support of homosexual intellectuals in the Cuban Revolution, and ultimately Castro agreed that while they would be prevented from involvement in education, they would not be punished. Nevertheless, many homosexuals were rounded up by police and forced into a manual labour organisation for criminals, the Military Units for the Support of Production (UMAP). Decades later, Castro expressed deep regret for these actions, taking full responsibility and calling them "moments of great injustice, great injustice!".
By 1962, the Cuban economy was in steep decline, a result of poor economic management coupled with the interference and trade embargo of the U.S. government. There were major food shortages, leading to a riot in Cárdenas, forcing the government to implement rationing. Security reports indicated that the Cuban people were increasingly associating the governing Communists with austerity, shortages and persecution, and so in March 1962 Castro removed the most prominent "Old Communists" from office, labeling them too "sectarian". On a personal level, Castro was feeling increasingly lonely and isolated in his position as Prime Minister, and relations with his old friend Che Guevara became strained as the latter became increasingly anti-Soviet, instead favouring the Chinese Marxist-Leninist government of Mao Zedong in the Sino-Soviet Split.
The Cuban Missile Crisis: 1962Edit
Soviet Premier Khrushchev believed that the USSR was vulnerable to attack from the U.S. and its NATO allies, who had nuclear weapons located in Western Europe and Turkey and who also controlled a greater number of submarines and bombers. He developed a plan to place Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba, from where they could hit most of the U.S., thereby switching the balance of power to the Soviet Union.
Tensions between Cuba and the U.S. heightened during the 1962 missile crisis, which nearly brought the U.S. and the USSR into nuclear conflict. Khrushchev conceived the idea of placing missiles in Cuba as a deterrent to a possible U.S. invasion and justified the move in response to U.S. missile deployment in Turkey. After consultations with his military advisors, he met with a Cuban delegation led by Raúl Castro in July in order to work out the specifics. It was agreed to deploy Soviet R-12 MRBMs on Cuban soil; however, American Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance discovered the construction of the missile installations on October 15, 1962 before the weapons had actually been deployed.
The U.S. government viewed the installation of Soviet nuclear weapons Template:Convert south of Key West as an aggressive act and a threat to U.S. security. As a result, the U.S. publicly announced its discovery on October 22, 1962, and implemented a quarantine around Cuba that would actively intercept and search any vessels heading for the island. Nikolai Sergevich Leonov, who would become a General in the KGB Intelligence Directorate and the Soviet KGB deputy station chief in Warsaw, was the translator Castro used for contact with Russians during this period.
In a personal letter to Khrushchev dated October 27, 1962, Castro urged him to launch a nuclear first strike against the United States if Cuba were invaded, but Khrushchev rejected any first strike response. Soviet field commanders in Cuba were, however, authorized to use tactical nuclear weapons if attacked by the United States. Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for a U.S. commitment not to invade Cuba and an understanding that the US would secretly remove American MRBMs targeting the Soviet Union from Turkey and Italy, a measure that the U.S. implemented a few months later.
Loyalty to Castro became the primary criteria for all appointments on the island. The Communist Party strengthened its one-party rule, with Castro as the Prime Minister. In the 1961 New Year's Day parade, Castro exhibited Soviet tanks and other weapons. The Soviet Union awarded him the Lenin Peace Prize later that year.
===Furthering Socialism: 1962–1969===
Cuba's relations with the Soviet Union became strained when Cuba continued to recognise Israel as an independent state; the Soviet Union and its satellite states in the Eastern Bloc (with the exception of the Socialist Republic of Romania) had broken of diplomatic ties with Israel the earlier year. Relations became even more sour when Alexei Kosygin, the Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, visited Cuba in the aftermath of the 1967 Glassboro Summit Conference. During the visit Kosygin pressured Castro to end diplomatic relations with Israel; Castro responded by demanding that the Soviet Union end diplomatic relations with the United States.
On August 23, 1968, Castro made a public gesture to the USSR that caused the Soviet leadership to reaffirm their support for him. Two days after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to repress the Prague Spring, Castro took to the airwaves and publicly denounced the Czech rebellion. Castro warned the Cuban people about the Czechoslovakian 'counterrevolutionaries', who "were moving Czechoslovakia towards capitalism and into the arms of imperialists". He called the leaders of the rebellion "the agents of West Germany and fascist reactionary rabble." In return for his public backing of the invasion, at a time when many Soviet allies were deeming the invasion an infringement of Czechoslovakia's sovereignty, the Soviets bailed out the Cuban economy with extra loans and an immediate increase in oil exports.
===Economic stagnation and Third World politics: 1970–1974===
In 1971, Castro made his first foreign visit since 1964, this time to Chile, where the Marxist President Salvador Allende (1908–1973) had just been elected as the head of a left-wing coalition. Implementing socialist reforms by nationalizing industry, Allende gained Castro's support, and Castro spent 23 days touring the country, giving speeches and press conferences, talking to both admiring socialists and right wing opponents. He was however cautious of the Chilean military, which remained staunchly right wing and anti-socialist, and advised Allende to purge such opponents from the armed forces before they led a coup. Castro was proved right. In 1973, the military, backed by the U.S. government, led a coup d'etat against Allende's government, banning elections and establishing a military junta led by Commander-in-Chief Augusto Pinochet. Castro considered it a tragedy, but was unsurprised.
Following his trip to Chile, Castro traveled to West Africa to meet with Sékou Touré (1922–1984), the President of Guinea. A socialist and nationalist, Touré had much in common with Castro, and they forged an alliance; the Cuban even told a crowd of Guineans that theirs was the greatest leader in Africa. From Guinea he went on a seven week tour visiting various other leftist allies in Africa and Eurasia: Algeria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and then the Soviet Union. On every trip he seemed eager to travel among the people by visiting factories and farms, and chatted and joked with those whom he met. Although publicly highly supportive of these governments, in private he urged them to do more to aid revolutionary socialist movements in other parts of the world, and in particular in Vietnam, where the Vietnam War was then raging between the Chinese-backed communists and U.S.-backed capitalists. In September 1973 he returned to Algiers in order to attend the Fourth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Various members of the NAM were critical of Castro's attendance, claiming that Cuba was aligned to the USSR and its Warsaw Pact block and therefore should not be at the conference, particularly as he praised the Soviet Union in his speech and asserted that it was not imperialistic in nature.
In 1974, Castro broke off relations with the Israeli government over both their treatment of Palestinian civilians during the Israel-Palestine conflict and their increasingly close relationship with the United States. This earned him respect from leaders throughout the Arab world. In particular he was praised by Muammar Gaddafi (1942–2011), the socialist president of the Libyan Arab Republic, with Castro and Gaddafi becoming friends and allies. That year, Cuba also experienced an economic boost, due primarily to the high international price of sugar, but also influenced by new trade credits with Canada, Argentina, and various countries in Western Europe. With such economic growth, the Cuban government decided to call the first National Congress of the Cuban Communist Party. It adopted a new constitution based upon the Soviet model, which abolished both the position of President and Prime Minister.
===War in Angola, Ethiopia and Central America: 1975–1989===
On November 4, 1975, Castro ordered the deployment of Cuban troops to Angola in order to aid the Marxist MPLA-ruled government against the South African-backed UNITA opposition forces. Moscow aided the Cuban initiative with the USSR engaging in a massive airlift of Cuban forces into Angola. On Cuba's role in Angola, Nelson Mandela is said to have remarked "Cuban internationalists have done so much for African independence, freedom, and justice."
Cuban troops were also sent to Marxist Ethiopia to assist Ethiopian forces in the Ogaden War with Somalia in 1977. In addition, Castro extended support to Marxist Revolutionary movements throughout Latin America, such as aiding the Sandinistas in overthrowing the Somoza government in Nicaragua in 1979. It has been claimed by the Carthage Foundation-funded Center for a Free Cuba that an estimated 14,000 Cubans were killed in Cuban military actions abroad. Castro never disclosed the amount of casualties in Soviet African wars, but one estimate is 14,000, a high number for the small country.
Juan Antonio Rodríguez Mernier, a former Cuban Intelligence Major who defected in 1987, says the regime made large amounts of money from drug trafficking operations in the 1970s. The cash was to be deposited in Fidel's Swiss bank accounts "in order to finance liberation movements". Norberto Fuentes, a defected member of the Castro brothers' inner circle, has provided details about these operations. According to him, an operation conducted in cooperation with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine helped Cuban intelligence to steal one billion by robbing banks in Lebanon during the 1975–76 civil war. Gold bars, jewelry, gems, and museum pieces were carried in diplomatic pouches via air route Beirut-Moscow-Havana. Castro personally greeted the robbers as heroes.
Fabian Escalante, who was long tasked with protecting the life of Castro, estimated the number of assassination schemes or attempts by the CIA to be 638. Some such attempts allegedly included an exploding cigar, a fungal-infected scuba-diving suit, and a mafia-style shooting. Some of these plots are depicted in a documentary entitled 638 Ways to Kill Castro. One of these attempts was by his ex-lover Marita Lorenz whom he met in 1959. She allegedly agreed to aid the CIA and attempted to smuggle a jar of cold cream containing poison pills into his room. When Castro realized, he reportedly gave her a gun and told her to kill him but her nerve failed. Castro once said, in regards to the numerous attempts on his life he believes have been made, "If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal."
According to the Family Jewels documents declassified by the CIA in 2007, one such assassination attempt before the Bay of Pigs invasion involved Johnny Roselli and Al Capone's successor in the Chicago Outfit, Salvatore Giancana and his right-hand man Santos Trafficante. It was personally authorized by the then US attorney general Robert Kennedy.
Giancana and Miami Syndicate leader Santos Trafficante were contacted in September 1960 about the possibility of an assassination attempt by a go-between from the CIA, Robert Maheu, after Maheu had contacted Johnny Roselli, a member of the Las Vegas Syndicate and Giancana's number-two man. Maheu had presented himself as a representative of numerous international business firms in Cuba that were being expropriated by Castro. He offered US$150,000 for the "removal" of Castro through this operation (the documents suggest that neither Roselli nor Giancana and Trafficante accepted any sort of payments for the job). According to the files, it was Giancana who suggested using a series of poison pills that could be used to doctor Castro's food and drink. These pills were given by the CIA to Giancana's nominee Juan Orta, whom Giancana presented as being an official in the Cuban government who was also in the pay of gambling interests, and who did have access to Castro.
After a series of six attempts to introduce the poison into Castro's food, Orta abruptly demanded to be let out of the mission, handing over the job to another, unnamed participant. Later, a second attempt was mounted through Giancana and Trafficante using Dr. Anthony Verona, the leader of the Cuban Exile Junta, who had, according to Trafficante, become "disaffected with the apparent ineffectual progress of the Junta". Verona requested US$10,000 in expenses and US$1,000 worth of communications equipment. However, it is unknown how far the second attempt went, as the entire program was cancelled shortly thereafter due to the launching of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
===United States embargo===
- Main article: United States embargo against Cuba
José María Aznar, former Spanish Prime Minister, wrote that the embargo was Castro's greatest ally, and that Castro would lose his presidency within three months if the embargo was lifted. Castro retained control after Cuba became bankrupt and isolated following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The synergic contraction of Cuban economy resulted in eighty-five percent of its markets disappearing, along with subsidies and trade agreements that had supported it, causing extended gas and water outages, severe power shortages, and dwindling food supplies.
Cuba's "Special Period": 1990–2000Edit
When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Cuba in 1989, the camaraderie between Havana and Moscow was strained by Gorbachev's implementation of economic and political reforms in the USSR. "We are witnessing sad things in other socialist countries, very sad things", lamented Castro in November 1989, in reference to the changes that were sweeping such communist allies as the Soviet Union, East Germany, Hungary, and Poland. The subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 had an immediate and devastating effect on Cuba.
In 1994, the island's economy plunged into what was called the "Special Period"; teetering on the brink of collapse. Cuba legalized the US dollar, turned to tourism, and encouraged the transfer of remittances in US dollars from Cubans living in the USA to their relatives on the Island.
After massive damage caused by Hurricane Michelle in 2001, Castro proposed a one-time cash purchase of food from the U.S. while declining a U.S. offer of humanitarian aid.
The U.S. authorized the shipment of food in 2001, the first since the embargo was imposed. During 2004, Castro shut down 118 factories, including steel plants, sugar mills and paper processors to compensate for the crisis due to fuel shortages, and in 2005 directed thousands of Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for oil imports.
===Cuba and the Pink Tide: 2001–2008===
Cuba and Panama restored diplomatic ties in 2005 after breaking them off a year prior when Panama's former president pardoned four Cuban exiles accused of attempting to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro in 2000. The foreign minister of each country re-established official diplomatic relations in Havana by signing a document describing a spirit of fraternity that has long linked both nations. Cuba, once shunned by many of its Latin American neighbours, now has full diplomatic relations with all but Costa Rica and El Salvador.
Although the relationship between Cuba and Mexico remains strained, each side appears to make attempts to improve it. In 1998, Fidel Castro apologized for remarks he made about Mickey Mouse which led Mexico to recall its ambassador from Havana. He said he intended no offense when he said earlier that Mexican children would find it easier to name Disney characters than to recount key figures in Mexican history. Rather, he said, his words were meant to underscore the cultural dominance of the US. Mexican president Vicente Fox apologized to Fidel Castro in 2002 over statements by Castro, who had taped their telephone conversation, to the effect that Fox forced him to leave a United Nations summit in Mexico so that he would not be in the presence of President Bush, who also attended.
At a summit meeting of sixteen Caribbean countries in 1998, Castro called for regional unity, saying that only strengthened cooperation between Caribbean countries would prevent their domination by rich nations in a global economy. Caribbean nations have embraced Cuba's Fidel Castro while accusing the US of breaking trade promises. Castro, until recently a regional outcast, has been increasing grants and scholarships to the Caribbean countries, while US aid has dropped 25% over the past five years. Cuba has opened four additional embassies in the Caribbean Community including: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Suriname, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. This development makes Cuba the only country to have embassies in all independent countries of the Caribbean Community.
Castro was known to be a friend of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and was an honorary pall bearer at Trudeau's funeral in October 2000. They had continued their friendship after Trudeau left office until his death. Canada became one of the first American allies openly to trade with Cuba. Cuba still has a good relationship with Canada. In 1998, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien arrived in Cuba to meet President Castro and highlight their close ties. He is the first Canadian government leader to visit the island since Pierre Trudeau was in Havana in 1976.
The European Union accuses the Castro regime of "continuing flagrant violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms". In December 2001, European Union representatives described their political dialogue with Cuba as back on track after a weekend of talks in Havana. The EU praised Cuba's willingness to discuss questions of human rights. Cuba is the only Latin American country without an economic co-operation agreement with the EU. However, trade with individual European countries remains strong since the US trade embargo on Cuba leaves the market free from American rivals.
In 2005, EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel ended his visit to Cuba optimistic that relations with the communist state will become stronger. The EU is Cuba's largest trading partner. Cuba's imprisonment of 75 dissidents and the execution of three hijackers have strained diplomatic relations. However, the EU commissioner was impressed with Fidel Castro's willingness to discuss these concerns, although he received no commitments from Castro. Cuba does not admit to holding political prisoners, seeing them rather as mercenaries in the pay of the United States.
Castro is seen as an icon by leaders of recent socialist governments in Latin America. Hugo Chávez of Venezuela is a long-time admirer and reached agreements with Cuba to provide subsidized petroleum in exchange for Cuban medical assistance. Evo Morales of Bolivia has described him as "the grandfather of all Latin American revolutionaries".===Succession issues===
According to Article 94 of the Cuban Constitution, the First Vice President of the Council of State assumes presidential duties upon the illness or death of the president. Raúl Castro was the person in that position for the last 32 years of Fidel Castro's presidency.
===Speculation on illness: 1998–2005===
Due to the issue of presidential succession and Castro's longevity, there have long been rumors, speculation and hoaxing about Castro's health and demise. In 1998 there were reports that he had a serious brain disease, later discredited. In June 2001, he apparently fainted during a seven-hour speech under the Caribbean sun. Later that day he finished the speech, walking buoyantly into the television studios in his military fatigues, joking with journalists.
In January 2004, Luis Eduardo Garzón, the mayor of Bogotá, said that Castro "seemed very sick to me" following a meeting with him during a vacation in Cuba. In May 2004, Castro's physician denied that his health was failing, and speculated that he would live to be 140 years old. Dr. Eugenio Selman Housein said that the "press is always speculating about something, that he had a heart attack once, that he had cancer, some neurological problem", but maintained that Castro was in good health.
On October 20, 2004, Castro tripped and fell following a speech he gave at a rally, breaking his kneecap and fracturing his right arm. He was able to recover his ability to walk and publicly demonstrated this two months later.
In 2005, the CIA said it thought Castro had Parkinson's disease.
Castro denied such allegations, while also citing the example of Pope John Paul II in saying that he would not fear the disease.
===Transfer of duties, speculation on illness 2006–2007===
However, on December 24, 2006, Spanish newspaper El Periódico de Catalunya reported that Spanish surgeon José Luis García Sabrido had been flown to Cuba on a plane chartered by the Cuban government. Dr. García Sabrido is an intestinal expert who further specializes in the treatment of cancer. The plane that Dr. García Sabrido's traveled in also was reported to be carrying a large quantity of advanced medical equipment. On December 26, 2006, shortly after returning to Madrid, Dr. García Sabrido held a news conference in which he answered questions about Castro's health. He stated that "He does not have cancer, he has a problem with his digestive system", and added, "His condition is stable. He is recovering from a very serious operation. It is not planned that he will undergo another operation for the moment." Although most Cubans acknowledge that they are aware Castro is seriously ill, most also seem worried about a future without Castro.
On January 16, 2007, the Spanish newspaper, El País, citing two unnamed sources from the Gregorio Marañón hospital —who employs Dr. García Sabrido— in Madrid, reported Castro was in "very grave" condition, having trouble wound healing, after three failed operations and complications from an intestinal infection caused by a severe case of diverticulitis. However, Dr. García Sibrido told CNN that he was not the source of the report and that "any statement that doesn't come directly from [Castro's] medical team is without foundation." Also, a Cuban diplomat in Madrid said the reports were lies and declined to comment, while White House press secretary Tony Snow said the report appeared to be "just sort of a roundup of previous health reports. We've got nothing new." On January 30, 2007, Cuban television and the paper Juventud Rebelde showed fresh video and photos from a meeting between Castro and Hugo Chávez said to have taken place the previous day.
In mid-February 2007, it was reported by the Associated Press that Acting President Raúl Castro had said that Fidel Castro's health was improving and he was taking part in all important issues facing the government. "He's consulted on the most important questions", Raúl Castro said of Fidel. "He doesn't interfere, but he knows about everything." On February 27, 2007, Reuters reported that Fidel Castro had called into Aló Presidente, a live radio talk show hosted by Hugo Chávez, and chatted with him for thirty minutes during which time he sounded "much healthier and more lucid" than he had on any of the audio and video tapes released since his surgery in July. Castro reportedly told Chávez, "I am gaining ground. I feel I have more energy, more strength, more time to study", adding with a chuckle, "I have become a student again." Later in the conversation (transcript in Spanish; audio)
, he made reference to the fall of the world stock markets that had occurred earlier in the day and remarked that it was proof of his contention that the world capitalist system is in crisis.
Reports of improvements in his condition continued to circulate throughout March and early April. On April 13, 2007, Chávez was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that Castro has "almost totally recovered" from his illness. That same day, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Roque confirmed during a press conference in Vietnam that Castro had improved steadily and had resumed some of his leadership responsibilities. On April 21, 2007, the official newspaper Granma reported that Castro had met for over an hour with Wu Guanzheng, a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party who was visiting Havana. Photographs of their meeting showed the Cuban president looking healthier than he had in any previously released since his surgery.
As a comment on Castro's recovery, U.S. President George W. Bush said: "One day the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away", Hearing about this, Castro, who is thought to be atheist, ironically replied: "Now I understand why I survived Bush's plans and the plans of other presidents who ordered my assassination: the good Lord protected me."
In January 2009 Castro asked Cubans not to worry about his lack of recent news columns, his failing health, and not to be disturbed by his future death. At the same time pictures were released of Castro's meeting with the Argentine president Cristina Fernández on January 21, 2009.
=== Retirement: 2008-present ===
In a letter dated February 18, 2008, Castro announced that he would not accept the positions of president and commander in chief at the February 24, 2008 National Assembly meetings, saying "I will not aspire to nor accept—I repeat I will not aspire to or accept—the post of President of the Council of State and Commander in Chief," effectively announcing his retirement from official public life. The letter was published online by the official Communist Party newspaper Granma. In it, Castro stated that his health was a primary reason for his decision, stating that "It would betray my conscience to take up a responsibility that requires mobility and total devotion, that I am not in a physical condition to offer".
On February 24, 2008, the National Assembly of People's Power unanimously chose his brother, Raúl Castro, as Fidel's successor as President of Cuba. In his first speech as Fidel's successor, he proposed to the National Assembly of People's Power that Fidel continue to be consulted on matters of great importance, such as defence, foreign policy and "the socioeconomic development of the country". The proposal was immediately and unanimously approved by the 597 members of the National Assembly. Raúl described his brother as "not substitutable". Castro had already given up the post of First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba on July 31, 2006.
Since his retirement, Castro has written a regular column in Granma called "Reflections", in which he writes on world affairs, and has occasionally made pre-taped appearances on television greeting visitors such as Hugo Chávez in his room. In July 2010, he made his first public appearance greeting workers at a science centre and gave his most prominent television interview since falling ill, on the Cuban program Mesa Redonda speaking for an extended period about tensions between the United States, Iran and North Korea.
On August 7, 2010, Castro gave his first speech to the Cuban National Assembly in four years. He addressed the body for ten minutes on international affairs and then remained to listen and respond to questions for a further 70 minutes. In his comments he urged the United States not to go to war with Iran or North Korea and warning about the dangers of a nuclear holocaust. When asked whether Castro may be re-entering government, Culture minister Abel Prieto told the BBC, "I think that he has always been in Cuba's political life but he is not in the government...He has been very careful about that. His big battle is international affairs."
- Main article: Politics of Fidel Castro
Castro has proclaimed himself to be "a Socialist, a Marxist, and a Leninist". As a socialist, Castro believes strongly in converting Cuba, and the wider world, from a capitalist system in which business and industry is owned by private individuals and organisations, into a socialist system in which all business and industry are owned by the state on behalf of the populace. In the former, there is a class divide between the wealthy classes who control the means of production (i.e. the factories, farms, media etc) and the poorer working classes who labour on them, whilst in the latter, socialists argue, this class divide would be obliterated as society becomes more egalitarian.
Marxism is the socio-political theory developed by German sociologists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the mid-19th century. It holds as its foundation the idea of class struggle; that society mainly changes and progresses as one socio-economic class takes power from another. Thus Marxists believe that capitalism replaced feudalism in the Early Modern period as the wealthy industrial class, or bourgeoisie, took political and economic power from the traditional land-owning class, the aristocracy and monarchy. In the same process, Marxists predict that socialism will replace capitalism as the industrial working class, or proletariat, seize power from the bourgeoisie through revolutionary action. In this way, Marxism is believed by its supporters to provide a scientific explanation for why socialism should, and will, replace capitalism in human society.
Leninism refers to the theories put forward by Russian revolutionary, political theorist and politician Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party who was a leading figure in the October Revolution that overthrew the Russian capitalist government and replaced it with a socialist alternative in 1917. Taking Marxism as its basis, Leninism revolves around putting forward ideas for how to convert a capitalist state into a socialist one. Castro used Leninist thought as a model upon which to convert the Cuban state and society into a socialist form.
Castro has described two historical figures as being particular influences on his political viewpoints; the Cuban anti-imperialist revolutionary José Martí (1853–1895) and the German sociologist and theorist Karl Marx (1818–1883). Commenting on the influence of Martí he related that "above all", he adopted his sense of ethics because:
- When he spoke that phrase I'll never be able to forget – 'All the glory in the world fits into a grain of corn' – it seemed extraordinarily beautiful to me, in the face of all the vanity and ambition that one saw everywhere, and against which we revolutionaries must be on constant guard. I seized upon that ethics. Ethics, as a mode of behaviour, is essential, a fabulous treasure.
The influence which Castro took from Marx on the other hand was his "concept of what human society is", without which, Castro argued, "you can't formulate any argument that leads to a reasonable interpretation of historical events."
By wearing military-style uniforms and leading mass demonstrations, Castro projected an image of a perpetual revolutionary. He was mostly seen in military attire, but his personal tailor, Merel Van 't Wout, convinced him to occasionally change to a business suit. Castro is often referred to as "Comandante", but is also nicknamed "El Caballo", meaning "The Horse", a label that was first attributed to Cuban entertainer Benny Moré, who on hearing Castro passing in the Havana night with his entourage, shouted out "Here comes the horse!"
During the revolutionary campaign, fellow rebels knew Castro as "The Giant". Large throngs of people gathered to cheer at Castro's fiery speeches, which typically lasted for hours. Many details of Castro's private life, particularly involving his family members, are scarce as the media is forbidden to mention them. Castro's image appears frequently in Cuban stores, classrooms, taxicabs, and national television. Despite this, Castro has stated that he does not promote a cult of personality.
In his biography of the Cuban leader, entitled The Real Fidel Castro (2003), the Briton Leycester Coltman described the Cuban as being "fiercely hard-working, dedicated[,] loyal... generous and magnanimous" but also noted that he could be "vindictive and unforgiving" at times. He went on to note that Castro "always had a keen sense of humour and could laugh at himself" but could equally be "a bad loser" who would act with "ferocious rage if he thought that he was being humiliated." In her book, Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder and the Cold War in the Caribbean (2011), the British historian Alex Von Tunzelmann commented that "though ruthless, [Castro] was a patriot, a man with a profound sense that it was his mission to save the Cuban people", contrasting him strongly to his Haitian contemporary François Duvalier.
By his first wife Mirta Díaz-Balart, whom he married on October 11, 1948, Castro has a son named Fidel Ángel "Fidelito" Castro Díaz-Balart, born on September 1, 1949. Díaz-Balart and Castro were divorced in 1955, and she remarried Emilio Núñez Blanco. After a spell in Madrid, Díaz-Balart reportedly returned to Havana to live with Fidelito and his family. Fidelito grew up in Cuba; for a time, he ran Cuba's atomic-energy commission before being removed from the post by his father. Díaz-Balart's nephews are Republican U.S. Congressmen Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, vocal critics of the Castro government.Template:Citation needed
Fidel has five other sons by his second wife, Dalia Soto del Valle: Antonio, Alejandro, Alexis, Alexander "Alex" and Ángel Castro Soto del Valle.
While Fidel was married to Mirta, he had an affair with Natalia "Naty" Revuelta Clews, born in Havana in 1925 and married to Orlando Fernández, resulting in a daughter named Alina Fernández-Revuelta. Alina left Cuba in 1993, disguised as a Spanish tourist, and sought asylum in the United States. She has been a vocal critic of her father's policies.Template:Citation needed Alina was assisted by Elena Diaz-Verson Amos, wife of AFLAC founder John Amos. Alina lived with Elena in Columbus, Georgia, for several years.
His sister Juanita Castro has been living in the United States since the early 1960s. When she went into exile, she said "I cannot longer remain indifferent to what is happening in my country. My brothers Fidel and Raúl have made it an enormous prison surrounded by water. The people are nailed to a cross of torment imposed by international Communism."===Religious beliefs===
According to Washington Post, Fidel Castro's letters from prison suggest that he
" was a man of unusual spiritual depth – and a fervent believer in God. Addressing the father of a fallen comrade, he writes: " I will not speak of him as if he were absent, he has not been and he will never be. These are not mere words of consolation. Only those of us who feel it truly and permanently in the depths of our souls can comprehend this. Physical life is ephemeral, it passes inexorably. . . . This truth should be taught to every human being – that the immortal values of the spirit are above physical life. What sense does life have without these values? What then is it to live? Those who understand this and generously sacrifice their physical life for the sake of good and justice – how can they die? God is the supreme idea of goodness and justice.""
Castro was baptized and raised a Roman Catholic as a child but did not practice as one. In Oliver Stone's documentary Comandante, Castro states "I have never been a believer", and has total conviction that there is only one life. Pope John XXIII excommunicated Castro in 1962 after Castro suppressed Catholic institutions in Cuba. Castro has publicly criticized what he sees as elements of the Bible that have been used to justify the oppression of both women and people of African descent throughout history.
In 1992, Castro agreed to loosen restrictions on religion and even permitted church-going Catholics to join the Cuban Communist Party. He began describing his country as "secular" rather than "atheist". Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998, the first visit by a reigning pontiff to the island. Castro and the Pope appeared side by side in public on several occasions during the visit. Castro wore a dark blue business suit rather than fatigues in his public meetings with the Pope and treated him with reverence and respect.
In December 1998, Castro formally re-instated Christmas Day as the official celebration for the first time since its abolition by the Communist Party in 1969. Cubans were again allowed to mark Christmas as a holiday and to openly hold religious processions. The Pope sent a telegram to Castro thanking him for restoring Christmas as a public holiday.
Castro attended a Roman Catholic convent blessing in 2003. The purpose of this unprecedented event was to help bless the newly restored convent in Old Havana and to mark the fifth anniversary of the Pope's visit to Cuba. The senior spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christian faith arrived in Cuba in 2004, the first time any Orthodox Patriarch has visited Latin America in the Church's history: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I consecrated a cathedral in Havana and bestowed an honor on Fidel Castro. His aides said that he was responding to the decision of the Cuban Government to build and donate to the Orthodox Christians a tiny Orthodox cathedral in the heart of old Havana. After Pope John Paul II's death in April 2005, an emotional Castro attended a mass in his honor in Havana's cathedral and signed the Pope's condolence book at the Vatican Embassy. He had last visited the cathedral in 1959, 46 years earlier, for the wedding of one of his sisters. Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino led the mass and welcomed Castro, who was dressed in a black suit, expressing his gratitude for the "heartfelt way the death of our Holy Father John Paul II was received (in Cuba)."
In his 2009 spoken autobiography, Castro said that that Christianity exhibited "a group of very humane precepts" which gave the world "ethical values" and a "sense of social justice", before relating that "If people call me Christian, not from the standpoint of religion but from the standpoint of social vision, I declare that I am a Christian."
==Recognition and legacy==
Various leftist governments across the world have granted Castro awards for his work in promoting socialism and providing international humanitarian aid. The Juche government of North Korea for instance awarded him "the Golden Medal (Hammer and Sickle) and the First Class Order of the National Flag", whilst Muammar Gaddafi's Arab socialist government of Libya bestowed upon him a "Libyan human rights award". On a visit to South Africa in 1998 he was warmly received by President Nelson Mandela. President Mandela gave Castro South Africa's highest civilian award for foreigners, the Order of Good Hope.
After the fall of apartheid and the independence of Namibia, the country's capital, the city of Windhoek, renamed many streets, including one that now bears the name of Fidel Castro Street.Template:Citation needed
Honours and awardsEdit
- Hero of the Soviet Union
* Order of Lenin, three times; (Soviet Union) 1963, "for their successful struggle for freedom and independence of heroic Cuban people, who has made a worthy contribution to the great cause of peace and socialism and his great role in strengthening and development of the fraternal Soviet-Cuban"; 1972; 1986 "for his contribution to the promotion of fraternal relations between the USSR and Cuba".
* Lenin Peace Prize for Strengthening International Peace Among Peoples (Soviet Union, 1961)
* Jubilee Medal "Thirty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945" (Soviet Union, 1975)
* Order of the October Revolution (Soviet Union, 1976)
* Star of the Republic of Indonesia, Fourth Class
* Guerrilla Star (Indonesia, 1960)
* Order of the Star of the Romanian Socialist Republic, First Class (1972; "for special merits in the revolutionary struggle for national liberation and social development of Cuba, for the defense of national independence and sovereignty of the motherland socialism against imperialism, for the special contribution made to the expansion of multilateral relations of cooperation, international friendship and solidarity between the Communist Party of Cuba and the Romanian Communist Party, between the Republic of Cuba and the Socialist Republic of Romania, between Cuba and the Romanian people".
* Order of the White Lion, First Class (Czechoslovakia, 1972)
* Order of Georgi Dimitrov (Bulgaria, 1972)
* Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (1973)
* Order of Courage (Libya) (1977)
* Somali Order, First Class (1977)
* Order of Jamaica (1977)
* Order of Merit of Jamaica
* Great Order of the Star Honor of Socialist Ethiopia (1978), for Cuban aid to victory in the Ogaden War
* Jorge Dimitrov Prize for Peace (Bulgaria, 1980)
* Order of the Gold Star (Vietnam, 1982)
* Hero of the People's Republic of Korea
* Order of National Flag, First Class (North Korea, 1986)
* Order of Karl Marx (German Democratic Republic)
* Collar of the Order of the Aztec Eagle (Mexico, 1987)
* Gold Medal of the Senate of Spain (1988)
* Order of Klement Gottwald (Czechoslovakia, 1989) "for outstanding personal merits for the expansion of fraternal and friendly partnership and cooperation between Cuban and Czechoslovak Communist parties, the two countries and their peoples".
* Order Agostinho Neto (Angola, 1992)
* Order of Merit of Duarte, Sanchez and Mella, Grand Cross Gold Plate (Dominican Republic, 1998)
* Order of Good Hope, First Degree (South Africa, 1998)
* Grand Cross of the Order Mali National (July 1998)
* Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise (Ukraine, 2000), for medical assistance to victims of the Chernobyl disaster
* Independence Medal of Qatar (15 September 2000)
* Order of the Republic of Yemen (2000)
* Grand Collar of the Order of the Liberator (Venezuela, October 2000)
* Grand Collar of the Order Agostura Congress (Venezuela, 2001)
* Honorary Medal of the Algerian Liberation Army (May 6, 2001)
* Order of the Crown of the Realm (Malaysia, 11/05/2001)
* Medal of the City of Buenos Aires (2003)
* Hero of Working (North Korea, 2006)
* Order of National Flag First Class (North Korea, 2006) to "promote the reunification of the Korean peninsula and build socialism"
* Amilcar Cabral Medal (Guinea Bissau, 2007) for "having contributed to the establishment and strengthening of Guinea Bissau"
* Sports Merit Medal (Ministry of Sports of Ecuador, 2007)
* Order of the Ancient Welwitschia Mirabilis (Namibia, March 2008) "for his support of African liberation struggles"
* Ubuntu Award (National Heritage Council of South Africa, 2008) "a life dedicated to solidarity and ethics, highlighting the importance of human values and dedication to humanity"
* Medal of Honor of Dominica (November 2008) for "the support provided by Cuba and its leader since independence in Dominica"
* Great Extraordinary Cross of Order of Omar Torrijos Herrera (Panama, January 2009)
* Grand Collar of the Order of the Quetzal (February 2009) "in appreciation for the more than 17 million consultations and more than 40,000 operations of the Operation Miracle Eye, made by Cuban doctors for the benefit of the Guatemalan people"
* Order of Oliver Reginald Tambo, Fellow in Grade Gold South Africa "for his contribution to the eradication of racism, colonialism, apartheid and inequality in human society"
* Order of Honour and Glory (Russian Orthodox Church, October 19, 2008) - for his contribution to strengthening inter-religious cooperation in connection with the consecration of the church of Our Lady of Kazan in Havana
* Order of the Eagle of Zambia, First Degree (Zambia, September 2009) "for having inspired many to fight for dignity and equality"
* Order of Merit, first grade (Ukraine, March 2010) "for his important contribution to restoring the health of the children of Chernobyl, after an accident in 1986 in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic"
* General Eloy Alfaro Award (Ecuador, May 2010) for its "exceptional merit and dignity"
* East Timor Order, Great Collar (November 2010) "for Cuban support in health and education"
==Controversy and criticism==
- Main articles: Human rights in Cuba and Censorship in Cuba
Many observers refer to Castro as a dictator and his rule was the longest to-date in modern Latin American history. The Human Rights Watch organization has suggested that Castro constructed a "repressive machinery" which "continues to deprive Cubans of their basic rights".
===Allegations of mismanagement===
In their book, Corruption in Cuba, Sergio Diaz-Briquets and Jorge F. Pérez-López Servando state that Castro "institutionalized" corruption and that "Castro's state-run monopolies, cronyism, and lack of accountability have made Cuba one of the world's most corrupt states". Servando Gonzalez, in The Secret Fidel Castro, calls Castro a "corrupt tyrant".
In 1959, according to Gonzalez, Castro established "Fidel's checking account", from which he could draw funds as he pleased. The "Comandante's reserves" were created in 1970, from which Castro allegedly "provided gifts to many of his cronies, both home and abroad". Gonzalez asserts that Comandante's reserves have been linked to counterfeiting business empires and money laundering.
As early as 1968, a once-close friend of Castro's wrote that Castro had huge accounts in Swiss banks. Castro's secretary was allegedly seen using Zürich banks. Gonzalez wrote that Cuba's paucity of trade with Switzerland contrasts oddly with the National Office of Cuba's relatively large office in Zurich. Castro has denied having a bank account abroad with even a dollar in it.
===Allegations of wealth===
A KGB officer, Alexei Novikov, stated that Castro's personal life, like the lives of the rest of the Communist elite, is "shrouded under an impenetrable veil of secrecy". Among other things, he asserted that Castro has a personal guard of more than 9,700 men and three luxurious yachts.
In 2005, American business and financial magazine Forbes listed Castro among the world's richest people, with an estimated net worth of US$550 million. The estimates, which the magazine admitted were "more art than science", claimed that the Cuban leader's personal wealth was nearly double that of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, despite anecdotal evidence from diplomats and businessmen that the Cuban leader's personal life was notably austere. This assessment was drawn by making economic estimates of the net worth of Cuba's state-owned companies, and used the assumption that Castro had personal economic control. Forbes later increased the estimates to US$900 million, adding rumors of large cash stashes in Switzerland. The magazine offered no proof of this information, and according to CBS News, Castro's entry on the rich list was notably brief compared to the amount of information provided on other figures. Castro, who had considered suing the magazine, responded that the claims were "lies and slander", and that they were part of a US campaign to discredit him. He declared: "If they can prove that I have a bank account abroad, with US$900m, with US$1m, US$500,000, US$100,000 or US$1 in it, I will resign." President of Cuba's Central Bank, Francisco Soberón, called the claims a "grotesque slander", asserting that money made from various state owned companies is pumped back into the island's economy, "in sectors including health, education, science, internal security, national defense and solidarity projects with other countries."
Fully or partially by Fidel Castro
*Capitalism in Crisis: Globalization and World Politics Today, Ocean Press, 2000, ISBN 1-876175-18-4
*Che: A Memoir, Ocean Press, 2005, ISBN 1-920888-25-X
*Cuba at the Crossroads, Ocean Press, 1997, ISBN 1-875284-94-X
*Fidel Castro: My Life: A Spoken Autobiography, Scribner, 2008, ISBN 1-4165-5328-2
*Fidel Castro Reader, Ocean Press, 2007, ISBN 1-920888-88-8
*Fidel My Early Years, Ocean Press, 2004, ISBN 1-920888-09-8
*Fidel & Religion: Conversations with Frei Betto on Marxism & Liberation Theology, Ocean Press, 2006, ISBN 1-920888-45-4
*How Far We Slaves Have Come! South Africa and Cuba in Today's World, by Nelson Mandela & Fidel Castro, Pathfinder Press, 1991, ISBN 0-87348-729-X
*Playa Giron: Bay of Pigs : Washington's First Military Defeat in the Americas, Pathfinder Press, 2001, ISBN 0-87348-925-X
*Political Portraits: Fidel Castro reflects on famous figures in history, Ocean Press, 2008, ISBN 1-920888-94-2
*The Declarations of Havana, Verso, 2008, ISBN 1-84467-156-9
*The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro, Nation Books, 2007, ISBN 1-56025-983-3
*The Strategic Victory: The War Against Batista in the Sierra Maestra [La contraofensiva estratégica: De la Sierra Maestra a Santiago de Cuba], Ocean Press, 2012 , ISBN 0-9870779-0-2
*Time Warrior [Guerrillero del Tiempo], by Fidel Castro Ruz and Katiuska Blanco, Abril, 2012
*War, Racism and Economic Justice: The Global Ravages of Capitalism, Ocean Press, 2002, ISBN 1-876175-47-8
*2006–2008 Cuban transfer of presidential duties
*Cuban dissident movement
*July 26 Movement
*Politics of Cuba
In other media:
*638 Ways to Kill Castro
*Fidel (2001 documentary)
*My Life (Fidel Castro autobiography)
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;By Fidel Castro
*Archive of Fidel Castro's speeches in 6 languages
*Fidel Castro History Archive at Marxists Internet Archive.
*Collection of Castro's speeches
*"We Don't Hope for Favors from the Worst of Empires"
*"Where Have All the Bees Gone?"
*"In Spite of Everything: Reflections on the Pan-American Games"
*"Time for an Alliance of Civlizations Against Empire"
*Fidel Castro in His Own Words
*Castro: Early Years (1953–1961) – slideshow by Life magazine
*Fidel Castro: A Revolutionary Life – slideshow by Life magazine
*Fidel Castro: A Life in Pictures – slideshow by BBC News
*Fidel Castro's Five Decades in Power – slideshow by The Washington Post
*Fidel Castro Resigns as President – slideshow by New York Times
- About Fidel Castro
*Fidel Castro: From Rebel to El Presidente – timeline by NPR
- A Visit With Castro by The Nation, December 24, 2003
*BBC Video: Fidel Castro Visits Boyhood Home of Che Guevara
*New York Times –- Interactive Feature: Three Days With Fidel
*PBS American Experience Interactive site on Fidel Castro with a teacher's guide
*Guide to the Cuban Revolution Collection, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library
*Deena Stryker Photographs of Cuba, 1963–1964, Duke University Libraries Digital Collections
* NPR Audio: Cuba's Castro an Inspiration, Not a Role Model by Tom Gjelten, September 15, 2006
*The Guardian: "The Fidel I Think I Know" by Gabriel García Márquez, August 12, 2006
*Washington Post: Fidel Castro Will Always Lead Cuba, Locals Say February 22, 2008
*Castro's Legacy by Wayne S. Smith, US Interests Section in Havana Chief from 1979 to 1982.
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