The Cuban revolutionary and statesman Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz is the son of a prosperous immigrant sugar planter. He was born on 13 August 1926 near Brian in Oriente Province, Cuba, and attended Jesuit schools and later studied law in Havana. During his years as a student he was a political activist. Upon receiving his degree in 1950, he established a private law practice and then joined the reformist Cuban People’s Party in 1947. Castro married in 1948 and was divorced in 1954. He has one son, born in 1949.
Castro wanted to run for parliament in 1952 but General Batista overthrew the government and cancelled the election. Castro first opposed the Batista regime in court, but in 1953 he led a revolution in Santiago using an unsuccessful rebel force. He was arrested, tried and jailed until 1955. His self-defence at this trial is known by its concluding words, History Will Absolve Me. It was to become his major policy statement at the time.
He was exiled in 1955, and he next went to Mexico to organize a new force – the 26 of July Movement. In 1956 he landed on the Cuban coast with eighty-two men, including Che Guevara, and again met a bloody defeat with only twelve men surviving. He launched successful guerrilla operations from the Sierra Maestra Mountains, and in December 1958 led a march on Havana. General Batista, fled, and on 1 January 1959 Castro triumphantly took power.
Castro the Prime Minister
Castro declared himself Prime Minister and, unable to establish diplomatic or commercial agreements with the USA, negotiated credit, arms, and food supplies with the former Soviet Union. Soon he disappointed many sympathizers with his radical policies after 1960. The Cuban revolution involved an extensive transformation of Cuban society led by the state, which, was dominated by the communist party. He expropriated foreign (mainly USA) business, and collectivized agriculture while the USA cancelled all trade agreements in 1960, and from 1961 Castro was fully allied with the Soviet Union.
Wealthy Cubans were fleeing the island and exiles began training in Florida for a counter-revolution. Castro only tightened his grip on Cuba in the face of repeated assassination attempts and the 17 April 1961 abortive US (CIA) and Cuban invasion of the ‘Bay of Pigs’ boosted his popularity. It all added to make Castro wary of another USA attempt and consequently, when Russia’s Khrushchev offered to place nuclear missiles in Cuba, he agreed.
Castro’s role in the crisis differs greatly from Kennedy (USA) and Khrushchev (USSR). Once he decided to accept the missiles on the island, he lost control over their future. Kennedy won the psychological battle in 1962 and on 28 October Khrushchev announced that he would dismantle the missiles. Castro, humiliated by the Cuban missile crisis, jailed, executed or exiled any challengers, forged even stronger ties to the Communist powers and vowed to take his anti-imperialist cause worldwide as the USA pressed its economic embargo.
Castro ruled without regard for the 1940 constitution until 1976, when the nation enacted a new constitution that allowed limited electoral participation by Cuban voters. Cuba’s National Assembly elected Castro president of the country in 1976. In the more than 40 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis, Castro has remained in power, and outlasted seven American presidents.
An advocate of revolution in other Latin American countries, and of liberation movements in Africa (especially Angola), he achieved significant status in developing countries through his leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and of COMECON in 1990, his government faced severe problems. Castro implemented severe economic measures in 1991, and some degree of liberalization of Cuba’s economy. The end of the Cold War as well as Cuba’s increased economic difficulties and Cuba’s ongoing international isolation have diminished Castro’s stature as an effective leader but he remains fairly popular in Cuba.
Castro announced his retirement from office on 19 February 2008.