Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (born August 13, 1926 in Birán, died November 25, 2016 in Havana) was a Cuban revolutionary, politician, soldier and lawyer. Leader of the Cuban Revolution. The de facto leader of Cuba from 1959 to 2008, the only Cuban with the rank of marshal (Comandante en Jefe). In 1959, he became Prime Minister, and in 1965, Secretary of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba. In 1976, following a government reorganization, he assumed the presidency of the Council of State in addition to the post of Prime Minister (renamed Chairman of the Council of Ministers). From 1979 to 1983, he was President of the Non-Aligned Movement. In 2006, he handed over power to his younger brother Raúl. In 2008 he resigned from key state posts due to ill health.
He was educated at Jesuit schools in Santiago de Cuba. In the following years he worked in Havana as a lawyer. In the 1940s, he joined the Cuban People”s Party (known as the Orthodox Party), for which he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1952. After General Fulgencio Batista”s March 1952 coup, he began forming guerrilla units. In 1953, he led a group of revolutionaries to attack the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Released under amnesty in 1955. He then went into exile in Mexico, where he formed the 26th of July Movement. In 1956, with a group of revolutionaries (including his brother Raúl and Che Guevara), he landed on the southwest coast of Cuba. While there, he made his way to the Sierra Maestra mountains, where he launched an anti-government revolution. In January 1959, he entered the capital and declared himself commander-in-chief of the armed forces and, from February 1959, also prime minister.
As the de facto leader of the country, he carried out agrarian reform, nationalization of foreign capital (especially American), which contributed to the break in diplomatic relations with the United States. From then until its dissolution, Cuba strengthened its relations with the Soviet Union, from which it received economic and military aid. After the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, he proclaimed the socialist nature of the revolution and appealed to Marxism-Leninism. He pursued a policy of “exporting the revolution,” implemented through expeditions of Cuban military units to Angola, Ethiopia, and Zaire, among other places. After a temporary liberalization of economic policy in the mid-1970s and a socio-political crisis in 1981, there was a renewed tightening of course in domestic politics. In the late 1990s he again carried out some liberalization of life on the island. He resigned from power in 2006 and stepped down as president of the Council of State in 2008.
Youth and education
Son of Galician immigrant Ángel Castro y Argiz (1875-1956), a sugar cane grower near Birán in the Oriente province. Coming from a poor peasant family, Ángel was a veteran of the American-Spanish War (1898) who decided to stay on the island. He founded a sugar cane mining company. In 1911 he married Maria Luisa Argota Reyes, with whom he had five children. He then entered into an informal relationship with Lina Ruz González (1903-1963), a servant girl from the Canary Islands. Lina bore him three sons and four daughters. Ángel married Lina in 1943. Fidel Castro was Lina”s third child (out of wedlock). He was born on August 13, 1926, and due to being an illegitimate child, he was originally given his mother”s last name.
He grew up alongside the children of the farm workers, a large number of whom were Haitian labor immigrants of African descent. He was baptized when he was about 6 years old. His godfather was the Haitian consul Luis Hibbert. As a child, he worked in cane cultivation. When he turned six, he and his brothers were sent to school in Santiago de Cuba. There he lived in cramped conditions and relative poverty, often having nothing to eat due to his guardian”s less than ideal situation. From 1942 he attended a boarding school in Santiago La Salle. In 1944, he won the title of the school”s best athlete. The young Castro was particularly fond of baseball. According to a popular story in Cuba, he was even on a tryout with the Washington Senators team, but they decided not to sign him.Due to his reprehensible behavior, he was expelled from school. His parents transferred him to a private Jesuit school in Santiago Dolores. In 1945 he transferred to a more prestigious Jesuit school, El Colegio de Belén in Havana.
In late 1945, he began studying law at the University of Havana. He was “politically illiterate” at the time, but was caught up in the student protest movement. In Cuba at the time, ruled by the regimes of Presidents Gerardo Machado, Fulgencio Batista and Ramón Grau San Martín, protests were stifled and student leaders killed or terrorized by gangs. This led to the creation of a culture of “gangsterismo” in Cuban universities. Universities were dominated by armed students who also engaged in criminal activity.
A proponent of anti-imperialism and opponent of U.S. intervention in the Caribbean, Castro became a member of the University Committee for the Independence of Puerto Rico and the Committee for Democracy in the Dominican Republic. He ran unsuccessfully for president of the Federation of Students. He ran using the slogans of “honesty, decency, and justice,” emphasized his opposition to corruption, and advocated against U.S. involvement in Cuban affairs. In November 1946, his activities were reported on the front pages of several newspapers. He remained in contact with members of student leftist groups – including the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Popular – PSP), the Revolutionary Socialist Movement (Movimiento Socialista Revolucionaria – MSR) and the Insurrectionary Revolutionary Union (Unión Insurrecional Revolucionaria – ÚIR). He himself was supposed to join the ÚIR, but biographers are not 100% sure about that. In 1947, he joined the Cuban People”s Party (known as the Orthodox Party), founded by an experienced politician, Eduardo Chibás. The Party of the People criticized widespread corruption and demanded political reform. Although Chibás lost the election, Castro continued to engage in activities on his behalf. After violence escalated at universities involving students recruited by the Grau regime, Castro received threats in which he was threatened with death and demanded to leave the university. Castro from this point on began carrying weapons and surrounding himself with armed friends. In later years, he was accused by some sources of attempting to murder student gangsters, including Lionel Gómez of UIR, Manolo Castro of MSR, and university police officer Oscar Fernandez. These allegations are not confirmed.
In June 1947, he learned of a planned invasion of the Dominican Republic to overthrow its dictator Rafael Trujillo who remained a U.S. ally. Trujillo used the secret police in his operations, which routinely murdered and tortured his opponents. As Chairman of the Committee for Democracy in the Dominican Republic, he decided to join an expedition led by the remaining exiled Dominican, General Juan Rodríguez. The anti-regime invasion began on July 29, 1947, with a revolutionary force of about 1,200 men, mostly exiled Dominicans and Cubans. The Dominican and U.S. governments prepared to repel the invasion. The Grau regime arrested many of those involved in the conspiracy before they sailed from Cuba. Castro avoided arrest by escaping from the frigate on which the conspirators were located. In preparation for the invasion, Castro stole a shotgun from the local police station. According to him, the rebellion had little to do with Marxist ideology and was a rebellion based on pro-democracy, anti-imperialist, and anti-colonial ideas.
The failed mission to the Dominican Republic intensified Castro”s opposition to the Grau administration. The revolutionary returned to Havana, where he took part in student protests against the regime”s murder of student activists. The protests were accompanied by U.S.-inspired repression of those considered communists. In February 1948, there were clashes between protesters and police that resulted in Castro being beaten. After these events, his public speeches took on a distinctly leftist hue. His condemnation of social and economic inequality in Cuba was a turning point in his political career, since he had previously focused on condemning corruption and U.S. imperialism. After a brief visit to Venezuela and Panama in April 1948, he traveled to Bogota, Colombia, where he met with a group of Cuban students sponsored by the Argentine government of President Juan Perón, whose policies Castro sympathized with. The assassination of leftist Colombian leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán led to the riots more widely known as “Bogotazo.” Fighting resulted in 3,000 deaths and the riots escalated into clashes between the ruling conservatives and liberals with the support of the socialists. Along with Cuban friends, Castro joined the liberals and stole weapons from a police station. Colombian police investigations confirmed that neither Castro nor any other Cuban was involved in any of the killings.
Upon his return to Cuba, he became a prominent figure in the protests against government attempts to raise bus fares (this mode of transportation was used mainly by students and workers). That same year, he married Mirta Díaz Balart, a student from a wealthy family. Mirta”s father entrusted the young couple with tens of thousands of dollars, and Fidel and Mirta spent a three-month honeymoon in New York. The couple also received a $1,000 wedding gift from General and former President Fulgencio Batista, a private friend of Mirta”s family.
In 1952, Grau decided not to run for re-election; the presidential election was won by the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Authentic) candidate, Carlos Prío Socarrás. Socarrás” government faced protests when members of the leftist IAS, which was then allied with the government, assassinated and murdered Justo Fuentes, one of the leaders of the UIR (and a close friend of Castro). In response, Socarrás attempted to break up the student gangs; however, he abandoned the idea after finding them too powerful. Influenced by Marxist writings by theorists such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin, Castro moved even further to the left of the political spectrum. He began to interpret Cuba”s problems as an integral part of capitalist society or the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” no longer seeing the main cause of Cuba”s failures as the actions of corrupt politicians. Embracing Marxist ideas, he recognized that meaningful change could only come about through the revolution of the proletariat. He visited Havana”s poorest neighborhoods, where he witnessed social and racial inequality. He became an active member of the University Committee to Combat Racial Discrimination. As he believed, through Marxism he learned the history of the class struggle, and understood that the world was divided between the poor and the rich who wanted to subjugate the poor.
In September 1949, Mirta gave birth to a son, Fidelito, and the couple moved to a larger apartment in the capital. Castro continued to remain active in underground activities against the regime, joining the September 30 Movement, which included both communists and members of the Popular Party. The group”s goal was to fight gang influence in the universities. Despite Socarrás”s promises, the government failed to take control of the situation, and many senior gang members took jobs in ministries. On November 13, he gave a speech in which he revealed the government”s secret agreements with gangs and subjected key members of such groups to identification. He attracted the attention of the national press and angered the gangs, causing him to go into hiding, first in the countryside and then in the United States. Upon his return to Havana a few weeks later, he concentrated on his studies. In September 1950, he received a doctorate in civil law (he also had a master”s degree in diplomatic law).
After graduation, he and two friends founded a law firm. In his professional work, he devoted himself to defending the rights of the poor. The law firm”s most important client was a timber merchant who paid the lawyers with the wood needed to build the law firm. Due to financial problems, he did not pay his bills, for which his electricity was cut off and his furniture was seized. He took part in a protest at Cienfuegos High School in November 1950. The protest escalated into four hours of fighting with the police. The protest was against a ban on student associations imposed by the Ministry of Education. He was arrested and charged with participating in a violent protest, but the judge dismissed the charges. He became an active member of the Cuban Peace Committee, a campaign against Western involvement in the Korean War. His hopes for state reform continued to be tied to the figure of Eduardo Chibás and the Cuban People”s Party. Chibás was compromised, however, when he accused Education Minister Aureliano Sánchez of buying a ranch in Guatemala with allegedly misappropriated funds. The politician was unable to substantiate his allegations, and the government accused him of lying. In 1951, Chibás shot himself during a radio broadcast where he gave his last speech. Castro accompanied the politician during his stay in the hospital, where Chibás died. Castro considered himself Chibás” heir apparent. He wanted to run in the June 1952 parliamentary elections. Senior members of the Popular Party feared his radical views and refused to nominate him as a candidate. After internal disputes, he was sent as a candidate to Havana”s poorest district. The party itself gained a high level of support, and Castro was elected to the House of Representatives. After the election, General Fulgencio Batista overthrew the government of President Socarrás and revoked the election result. Castro challenged Batista in court for violating the constitution. The court rejected the charge. While still on the campaign trail, Castro met personally with Batista, and the meeting between the two politicians was said to have taken place in a polite tone.
Batista described the new system as a “disciplined democracy,” Castro, as well as many other opposition figures, saw the new regime as a one-man dictatorship. Batista solidified his ties to both the wealthy elite and the United States. He severed diplomatic relations with the USSR, suppressed and persecuted labor unions, and smashed Cuban socialist groups. Initially, Castro tried to fight Batista through the courts, filing several labor lawsuits against the dictator and his ministers. The lawsuits were rejected by the courts, causing Castro to think of alternative ways to overthrow the government.
Creation of the Movement and attack on the Moncada Barracks
Dissatisfied with the actions of the peaceful opposition, he formed a “Movement” inside the Popular Party that included both civilians and military. The group”s organ was the underground newspaper El Acusador (The Accuser). Castro based its operation on a structure of underground cells. Each cell had ten members. A dozen or so people formed the nucleus of the movement, among them many disgruntled members of the Partido Ortodox. Starting in July 1952, the group launched a wave of recruitment, so that within a year it managed to group 1,200 members organized in more than a hundred cells. Most of the oppositionists came from Havana”s poorer neighborhoods. Although Castro had close ties to revolutionary socialism, he avoided an alliance with the communist PSP, fearing that it would scare away supporters of moderate political options. Fidel”s brother Raúl belonged to the party. In later accounts, Fidel himself considered the “Movement” to be simply anti-Batista in nature; according to him, few members held anti-imperialist or socialist views. This, according to him, was influenced by the action of the Americans who suppressed class consciousness among the island”s working class. He was driven to revolutionary activity largely by the writings of Josip Broz Tito, the leader of Yugoslavia”s World War II national liberation movement.
He was personally stockpiling weapons for a planned attack on the Moncada barracks in Oriente province. The militants, dressed in uniform, were to arrive at the military base on July 25 during a festival that was underway there, when many officers were to be off base. The rebels wanted to take control of the armory and were to withdraw after the arrival of military reinforcements. The new weapons were to be used to arm the opposition who wanted to provoke a revolt by impoverished cane cutters. The next step was to try to take control of Santiago”s radio station, which would make it possible to broadcast the “Movement” manifesto and thus call for more uprisings. Castro and his movement were modeled on 19th century Cuban independence movement activists who actively attacked Spanish barracks. Fidel himself saw himself as the heir to the leader of the independence movement and national hero José Martí. For the expedition against the barracks he gathered 165 revolutionaries, 138 were stationed in Santiago and 27 in Bayamo. They were mostly young men from Havana and Pinar del Río; as Castro assured them, none of them had children (except himself). He urged the participants in the attack not to use force (he authorized it in case of armed resistance).
The attack was carried out on July 26 (one day after the scheduled date). Despite lengthy preparations, three of the 16 cars traveling from Santiago failed to get to the scene of the action. The rebels went into battle with shouts of Freedom or Death. The soldiers raised the alarm, and most of the rebels found themselves under machine gun fire. The battle left six opposition fighters dead and 15 wounded, while 19 soldiers were killed and 27 wounded on the government side. A group of rebels took refuge in a civilian hospital, which was raided by soldiers. The rebels were captured and tortured. Twenty-two of them were executed without trial. The rebels who withdrew from the battlefield, including Fidel and Raúl, met again, some of them discussing surrender, those who were against this option, in turn, advocated escape to Havana. Accompanied by 19 rebels, Fidel Castro set off a few kilometers north to Gran Piedra in the Sierra Maestra mountains, where it was decided to establish a guerrilla base. In response to attacks on military targets, the government declared martial law. The regime brutally crushed opposition protests and imposed strict censorship on the media. Propaganda broadcast disinformation about the Movement, falsely claiming that the rebels were a communist unit that had killed hospital patients. Despite the censorship and propaganda, cases of torture and summary executions by the Oriente government soon came to light, resulting in public disapproval.
In the days that followed, many rebels were arrested. Castro himself was captured and transported to a prison north of Santiago. Disbelieving Castro himself, who testified that he had prepared the attack himself, the regime accused the Cuban People”s Party and the PSP of involvement. On September 21, 122 defendants were put on trial at the Palace of Justice in Santiago. Journalists were allowed to attend the trial. Admittedly, their coverage was censored, but the decision became a defeat for the Batista administration. Castro acted as his own defense attorney and convinced the three judges to overturn the decision of the military, which handcuffed all the defendants in court. The activist rejected the charge of “organizing an insurrection against the constitutional government,” in his view not committing the crime because Batista seized power in an unconstitutional manner. When asked by the court who was the ideological instigator of the attack, Castro said it was the long-dead national hero José Martí, whose works on justifying armed uprisings he cited during the trial. The investigation revealed that the military tortured the suspects, with military officers committing castration and eye gouging, among other acts. The army tried unsuccessfully to prevent Castro from giving further incriminating testimony, so military officials claimed the defendant was too ill to leave custody. The trial ended on October 5, with most of the defendants acquitted and 55 sentenced to prison terms ranging from 7 months to 13 years. Castro was convicted at a separate hearing on October 16, at which he gave a speech that was later printed under the title “History will acquit me.” Although the maximum penalty for leading a rebellion was 20 years in prison, Castro was sentenced to 15 years. Due to illness, he was placed in the hospital wing of the relatively modern Presidio Modelo prison on Isla de Pino.
Staying in Prison and the July 26 Movement
Imprisoned with 25 other conspirators, he reformed the “Movement” into a group called the “July 26 Movement” (MR-26-7). The group was named to commemorate the date of the attack on the barracks. He organized a school for prisoners called the Abel Santamarí Ideological Academy. He himself organized instruction in history, philosophy, and English that lasted five hours a day. During his imprisonment he learned the works of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Martí; he also read books by Sigmund Freud, Immanuel Kant, Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Axel Munthe and William Somerset Maugham and analyzed them in Marxist terms. He read about the New Deal policies implemented by American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and believed that similar economic policies should be implemented on the island. He answered letters from supporters, maintained control of “The Movement” and organized the publication of the speech “History will acquit me” with an original circulation of 27500 copies.
Initially, he enjoyed more freedom than other prisoners. After a presidential visit in February 1954, he was locked up in solitary confinement after his comrades performed anti-regime songs. Meanwhile, Fidel”s wife Mirta found employment at the Ministry of the Interior, a job she was encouraged to take by her brother, who was a close friend and ally of Batista. She concealed this fact from her husband, who learned about it from the radio. Upon hearing this, he became furious and stated that he would rather die “a thousand times over” than “suffer the helplessness of such an insult.” The couple began divorce proceedings. Mirta took custody of their son Fidelito; this provoked the ire of Castro, who did not want his son to grow up in a bourgeois environment. In 1954 Batista”s government held presidential elections, but no politician risked electoral competition with the dictator, and as a result Batista emerged victorious. The election was widely considered a fraud. The fraudulent election angered the opposition; Castro supporters then began to demand amnesty for the perpetrators of the Moncada incident. Some regime politicians suggested that an amnesty would be good publicity for the government, and as a result Batista and Congress agreed to implement it. Backed by American corporations, Batista believed that Castro would pose no political threat. Under the amnesty, Castro and other prisoners left the penitentiary on May 15, 1955. Upon his return to Havana, he was greeted by crowds of supporters. He held press conferences and gave press interviews. The government closely monitored his activities and restricted his freedom of action. After his divorce, he became involved with two women (who were also opposition activists), Nata Revuelta and Maria Laborde, each of whom conceived him a child.
The 26th of July Movement established an 11-member National Directorate. Despite these structural changes, Castro retained the most important role in the “Movement,” and there was no disagreement at the time with the leadership, which some of his rivals described as autocratic. He himself rejected calls to democratize the leadership, while claiming that the success of the revolution would not be achieved if the organization was run collectively. Some rivals within the “Movement” abandoned the organization, calling Castro a caudillo (dictator), but most activists remained loyal to the previous leader.
Staying in Mexico and guerrilla training
For the next six weeks Castro fought the Batista dictatorship by peaceful means. In 1955 there were violent demonstrations and assassinations organized by the opposition. The government suppressed the protests. He was protected by armed supporters before he and Raúl fled the country. The members of the 26th of July Movement who remained in Cuba were preparing the activities of revolutionary cells in anticipation of Castro”s return. Before his departure, he sent a letter to the press declaring that all the doors of the peace struggle were closed and he was forced to leave the country. He and several comrades went to Mexico, which for a long time offered asylum to leftist oppositionists from other countries. While in Mexico, Raúl befriended Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentine doctor and supporter of guerrilla warfare who joined the Cuban opposition. Fidel also took a liking to the Argentine-born activist. According to Fidel”s later memoirs, Guevara was “a more advanced revolutionary than I was.” While there, he also developed a relationship with Spaniard Alberto Bayo, who was a Republican veteran of the Spanish Civil War. Bayo agreed to teach the opposition the necessary skills needed for guerrilla warfare, and secretly met with the opposition in Chapultepec, where he organized military training.
In order to raise funds, he traveled to the United States. Batista”s deposed president Carlos Prío Socarrás gave the oppositionist $100,000. According to Castro, he was then monitored by regime spies. Batista”s government bribed Mexican police officers, and they arrested the oppositionists. The activists were soon released, after several national politicians sympathetic to the movement stood up for them. He maintained contacts with the 26th of July Movement on the island. The movement gained a lot of support especially in the Oriente region. Other groups fighting the regime grew mainly out of the student movement. The best known was the Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil, an organization founded by students affiliated with the University Federation with José Antonio Echevarría as president. Antonio even traveled to Mexico, where he met with Castro. Antonio, being a proponent of more radical solutions, agreed to the tactics advocated by Castro and even radicalized them (Antonio legitimized the killing of anyone associated with the government). Castro purchased the “Granma” yacht, which remained in poor condition. On November 25, with 81 revolutionaries armed with 90 rifles, three machine guns, 40 pistols and two anti-tank guns, he set sail for Cuba from Tuxpan, Veracruz. The sea distance between Mexico and Cuba was 1,200 miles, which was difficult to cover especially due to the overcrowding of the yacht. Along the way, many revolutionaries suffered from seasickness and food supplies were depleted. The voyage was delayed by water leaks as well as an accident in which one of the men fell overboard. Castro had originally planned to arrive on the island within five days according to this plan, and on November 30 members of the 26th of July Movement led by Frank Paisa carried out attacks on government buildings in Santiago, Manzanillo, and several other cities. However, the trip was delayed up to 7 days and Castro and his men were unable to provide support to the attacking rebels. As a result, after two days the Pais fighters stopped their attacks.
Guerrilla War in the Sierra Maestra (1956-58)
Granma arrived at Playa Los Colorados near Los Cayuelos on 2 December 1956. Within hours the ship was bombarded by government forces and the dissidents retreated inland along the forested Sierra Maestra mountain range in Oriente. At dawn on December 5, the rebels were attacked by a detachment of government Rural Guards. The rebels dispersed and continued their journey in small groups. Upon arrival, Castro noted that 19 of the 82 rebels had not made it to the agreed upon rendezvous point; they had been killed by the military or taken prisoner. The revolutionaries. who survived, including the Castro brothers, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos began to establish a guerrilla camp in the jungle. In order to acquire weapons, they carried out attacks on small military outposts. In January 1957, they occupied an outpost near the beach in La Plata. Following Guevara”s recommendation, they did not execute soldiers serving in the enemy army. Nevertheless, they executed Chicho Osorio, a land company supervisor and mayor hated by the local peasants. Osorio had boasted a few weeks earlier that he had killed one of the participants in the 26th of July Movement. Killing the mayor helped the rebels gain the trust of the locals, who hated the wealthy landowners, though they remained unenthusiastic about the rebels and treated them with suspicion. Trust grew over time as the first locals joined the rebel troops (most of the new recruits nevertheless came from urban areas). By July 1957, the July 26th Movement”s forces numbered 200 and Castro divided them into three columns. One column was controlled by Fidel himself, the second by his brother, and the third by Che. The movement continued to operate in urban areas, from where it sent supplies to the guerrilla forces. On February 16, 1957, Fidel met with senior members of the group to discuss the group”s tactics, and at the meeting he met Celia Sanchez, with whom he became friends.
Militant groups were formed throughout Cuba organizing acts of sabotage and carrying out anti-Batista attacks. Police carried out mass arrests, torture, and extrajudicial executions. Corpses hung on doors were meant to intimidate dissidents. In March 1957, Antonio organized a failed attack on the Government Palace, during which he was killed. His death resulted in Fidel Castro”s ultimate triumph as leader of the revolution. Frank Pais was also killed by government forces, making Castro the undisputed leader of MR-26-7. Fidel, unlike his brother and Guevara, hid his Marxist-Leninist beliefs. In this way he hoped to attract less radical people around him. In 1957 he met with leading activists of the Partido Ortodoxo. Castro and Ortodoxo leaders Raúl Chibás and Felipe Pazos drafted and signed a joint manifesto in Sierra Maestra. The document described plans to build a post-revolutionary society. It called for the abolition of the dictatorship, the establishment of a “popularly supported” provisional civilian government, a moderate land reform, industrialization, and literacy campaign, and then the holding of “truly fair, democratic, non-partisan elections.”
Batista”s government censored the Cuban press, so Castro contacted foreign media which he used to spread his message. The New York Times journalist Herbert Matthews interviewed him, which brought the revolutionary international attention and fame. He was followed by other reporters sent by news agencies such as CBS. A reporter from the French weekly Paris Match stayed with the rebels for four months and documented their activities during his visit. During this time the guerrillas increased their attacks on military posts and forced the government to withdraw from the Sierra Maestra. By the spring of 1958, the guerrillas controlled a hospital, schools, a printing plant, slaughterhouses, a cigar factory, and mines. During the guerrilla struggle, Castro and other revolutionaries grew beards, this was due to a shortage of razor blades. After the triumph of the revolution some of its leaders kept them as a symbol of the triumph of the revolution.
The fall of the Batista regime and Cantillo”s junta
Batista came under increasing pressure after the 1958 military defeats. His suppression of the opposition combined with press censorship, the use of torture and extrajudicial executions were increasingly criticized at home and abroad. Influenced by anti-Batista sentiment among its citizens, the U.S. government stopped supplying it with arms. The withholding of American aid forced Batista to buy weapons from Britain. The peaceful opposition, taking advantage of the government”s military defeats, called for a general strike. The strike was accompanied by a series of attacks carried out by MR-26-7. The movement, beginning in April of this year, consolidated a strong position in central and eastern Cuba.
The government responded to the guerrilla campaigns with Operation Verano (28 June-8 August 1958). Artillery bombarded forested areas that provided refuge for the guerrillas and villages suspected of sympathizing with the revolution. Ten thousand troops under the command of General Eulogio Cantillo surrounded the Sierra Maestra while moving toward the north, where the rebel camps were located. Despite its numerical and technological superiority, the army had no experience in fighting the rebels or fighting in the mountainous region. The 300 men on Castro”s orders avoided open confrontation, and fighting to hold the enemy”s offensive was conducted with mines and ambushes. The army suffered heavy losses, one battalion surrendered in June 1958, weapons were confiscated by the rebels, and captured soldiers were turned over to the Red Cross. Many of Batista”s soldiers, appalled by the government”s human rights violations, deserted and enlisted in the popular 26th of July Movement. During the summer, the rebels went on the offensive and pushed troops from the mountains into the lowlands. By November, Castro”s forces controlled most of Oriente and Las Villas provinces and surrounded Santa Clara and Santiago. With the capture of Las Villas, the rebels split Cuba in two and closed major roads and railroads, inflicting heavy losses on Batista”s forces. When the Americans realized that Batista would lose the war, they decided to remove Batista by installing a right-wing military junta. This was to hinder the rise to power of Castro who was considered an opponent of American interests. The Americans chose Cantillo, commander of most of the country”s armed forces, as the new dictator. Cantillo met secretly with Castro, and the two agreed to a ceasefire. It was announced that Batista would be arrested and tried as a war criminal. Desiring to avoid punishment, Batista resigned from office on December 31, 1958, and fled to the Dominican Republic with his family and closest advisors, appropriating more than $300 million U.S. dollars. Cantillo entered the presidential palace in Havana and appointed one of the members of the Supreme Court, Carlos Piedra, as the new president. He began the process of appointing new members of the government.
Remaining in Oriente, Castro was enraged by the formation of a new government that he considered a military junta. He broke the ceasefire and went on the offensive. The 26th of July Movement formed a plan to overthrow the Cantillo-Piedra junta. Members of the movement freed a high-ranking officer, Colonel Ramón Barquín, from prison on the Isle of Pines (where Fidel himself was held). The colonel flew to Havana with the task of arresting Cantillo. On January 1, 1959, the country held celebrations to mark the overthrow of the regime. Castro ordered MR-26-7 to guard order in the country to prevent looting and vandalism. Cienfuegos and Guevara led their columns into Havana on January 2. Castro, meanwhile, entered Santiago, where he accepted the surrender of the Moncada barracks and gave a speech in which he referred to the Cuban struggle for independence. He spoke out against the Cantillo-Piedra junta, announced punishments for those who violated human rights, and proclaimed a better era for women”s rights.
Crowds of supporters greeted him wherever he went, and he gave numerous interviews and press conferences. Foreign journalists commented on the unprecedented level of support for Castro and described him as a “heroic Christ-like figure.” Even then, the revolutionary leader wore a medallion with the Virgin Mary on it (his religious views later attracted much controversy).
He already held strongly anti-American views from the moment he assumed power. Even during the revolution, after a rocket delivered to the regime by the Americans hit one of the residential buildings, in a private correspondence to his friend Celia Sánchez, he promised that the Americans would repay the support they had given Batista. In the letter, he further stated that his true calling was to fight American imperialism.
In accordance with Castro”s wishes, a moderate lawyer and liberal, Manuel Urrutia Lleó, became president, and an interim civilian government was formed to replace the junta. Urrutia during the Batista regime, defended the MR-26-7 revolutionaries during the trial for the attack on the Moncada Barracks, according to him the attack on the barracks was legal according to the Cuban constitution. Castro believed that Urrutia would be a good leader. Most of Urrutia”s cabinet members were members of MR-26-7. On January 8, he and his troops entered Havana. He declared himself commander in chief of the armed forces. With close associates and family members, he moved into a suite of the Hilton Hotel in Havana, where he set up his own office. There he met with journalists, ministers, and foreign visitors. Although he was not given any position in the provisional government, because of his popularity and control over the army, he exerted great influence on government decisions. The government introduced a campaign to curb corruption and fight illiteracy. Initially, radical proposals were not pushed. In an attempt to rid the administration of Batista”s supporters, the parliament approved the removal from office of all those who had been elected in the fraudulent elections of 1954 and 1958. The president ruled by decree, Urrutia issued a temporary ban on political parties, and at the same time announced the organization of pluralist elections, which never took place. Fidel himself began meeting with members of the Socialist People”s Party, who he believed had the intellectual capacity to form a revolutionary government. Despite the strongly leftist beliefs of his circle, he himself repeatedly refused to define himself as a communist.
In 1959, Cuban revolutionaries supported Haitian opposition fighters against the regime of François Duvalier. The rebels landed on the island; however, they lost the fighting due to Duvalier”s support of the Americans.
Castro, who is respected throughout Latin America, traveled to Venezuela where he attended the first anniversary of the overthrow of dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez. He met with President-elect Rómulo Betancourt. Castro proposed establishing a more comprehensive relationship between the two nations, tried unsuccessfully to secure a $300 million loan and obtain a new contract for Venezuelan oil. Upon his return home, a dispute erupted between Castro and senior members of the government. The interim government banned the National Lottery and closed casinos and brothels, resulting in thousands of waiters, dealers, and prostitutes becoming unemployed. This decision infuriated Castro, and Prime Minister José Miró Cardona resigned and went into exile in the United States, organizing the anti-Castro movement there.
As Prime Minister
The first country in the world to recognize the new government (January 7, 1959) was the United States. Castro, who became prime minister on February 16 of the same year, also enjoyed the support of the Catholic Church. At the same time, the powers of the office were increased. On April 15 and 26, Castro visited the United States. U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, avoiding a meeting with Castro, made do with Vice President Richard Nixon, whom Castro had disliked at their first meeting. He then visited Trinidad, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Canada. In Buenos Aires, he attended an economic conference and unsuccessfully proposed the creation of a new “Marshall Plan for Latin America, for which the U.S. would hypothetically allocate thirty billion dollars. On May 17, he was appointed president of the National Institute for Agrarian Reform (Instituto Nacional de Reforma Agraria – INRA). He signed a land reform law limiting land tracts to 993 acres (4.02 km²) per owner and prohibiting foreign companies from buying up land. Large agricultural enterprises were distributed; an estimated 200,000 peasants received land titles. Some land went to communes run by local governments. For Castro, this was an important step that broke the control of the landed class over agriculture. While this reform won him many supporters among the working class, it alienated him in the eyes of many middle-class supporters. Personally, he was a proponent of more limited reform and pragmatism, and as a result he ran into a temporary dispute with his more radical brother Raul, who along with Che Guevara distributed land to the peasants without Fidel”s approval at the time.
He was also appointed president of the National Tourism Industry. He made an unsuccessful attempt to encourage tourists from the African American community by advertising the island as a tropical paradise free of racial discrimination. Implemented state salary changes; judges and politicians faced pay cuts while civil servant salaries were raised. In March he eliminated rents for people who earned less than $100 a month. On June 12, 1959, he sent Che on a three-month tour of 14 countries (Morocco, Sudan, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Yugoslavia, Greece) and cities (Singapore and Hong Kong). Guevara spent 12 days in Japan (July 15-27), negotiating to increase that country”s trade relations with Cuba. Although he refused to categorize his government as socialist and repeatedly denounced himself as a communist, he appointed many Marxists in his government and army – he appointed Che Guevara as head of the Central Bank and later as Minister of Industry. Dissatisfied with this turn of events, Air Force Commander Pedro Luis Díaz Lanz fled to the United States. Although President Urrutia condemned Díaz”s desertion, he publicly expressed concern about the growing influence of Marxism. As a result, Castro announced his resignation as prime minister and accused Urrutia of “feverish anti-communism.” Over 500,000 Castro supporters, demanding Urrutia”s resignation, surrounded the Presidential Palace. The president resigned, and on July 23 Castro returned to office. He appointed Marxist Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado as the new president.
In the months that followed, the revolutionary government smashed opponents and arrested hundreds of counterrevolutionaries. Armed anti-Castro groups, funded by exiles, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Dominican government of Trujilo, undertook armed attacks and configured guerrillas in the mountainous regions of Cuba. This led to a six-year rebellion in the Escambray mountains. Conservative editors and journalists expressed hostility to the government and disrupted the printing of pro-Castro union material as a result Castro decided to print union explanations, this was the first step in instituting press censorship.
He used radio and television to develop a “dialogue with the people,” asking questions and making provocative statements. His government remained popular among the workers, peasants, and students who made up the majority of the country”s population; the oppositionists came mainly from the middle class; thousands of doctors, engineers, and other professionals emigrated to Florida, USA, causing an economic brain drain. Emigration from Cuba, mainly to Miami and Mexico, came in waves. During the first period of his rule, mainly American capitalists, civil servants, military officers and others associated with the Batista regime fled Cuba. The next waves of emigration were made up of people who were actually fleeing Cuba for reasons of repression, or other political restrictions, as well as for economic reasons.
In the 1960s, the Cold War became newly apparent. The conflict was between two superpowers – the U.S. supported by capitalist countries and the Marxist-Leninist Soviet Union. Contemptuous of the US, Castro shared the ideological views of the USSR and established relations with several Marxist-Leninist countries. He met with Soviet Premier Anastas Mikoyan and agreed to export sugar, fruit, and fiber to the USSR in exchange for oil, fertilizer, manufactured goods, and a $100 million loan. He ordered the country”s refinery, controlled by U.S. corporations Shell, Esso, and Standard Oil, to process Soviet oil; the refinery rejected the idea under pressure from the U.S. government. To the company”s refusal, Castro responded by expropriating and nationalizing the refinery. In retaliation, the U.S. canceled Cuban sugar imports and provoked the nationalization of most U.S.-owned assets on the island, including banks and sugar mills. The nationalization took place for too little, in the American view, compensation. It was aimed at improving the tragic living conditions of the local population at that time. As Tad Schultz wrote in “Fidel: A Critical Portrait”: Castro was obsessed with improving social and economic conditions in Cuba. Concerned about reform, Dominican dictator Trujillo began forming an international “Anti-Communist Caribbean Legion,” which consisted mainly of supporters of the fascist far right from Germany, Croatia, and Greece.
Relations between Cuba and the United States were further strained after the explosion of a French ship, Le Coubre, in Havana in March 1960. The ship was carrying weapons purchased from Belgium. The cause of the attack was not determined, Fidel Castro immediately accused the CIA of an “act of terrorism,” and a funeral for the victims of the explosion was held the next day. At least 76 people were killed in the blast, and several hundred more were wounded. He ended his speech by shouting “¡Patria o Muerte!” (“Fatherland or Death”), a phrase that was frequently used in subsequent years. Terrorism, instead of leading to the abandonment of land reform, accelerated it. A new government agency, the National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA), was created to implement the plan. INRA quickly became the most important governing body in the country, with Guevara as Minister of Industry. Under Guevara”s presidency, INRA created a militia of 100,000 people to assist the government with land distribution and the establishment of productive cooperatives. 480,000 acres owned by U.S. corporations were confiscated.
Inspired by the earlier success from the 1954 coup in Guatemala, the Americans began operations against the Cuban government. On March 17, Eisenhower secretly authorized the overthrow of the Castro government. The president provided a budget of $13 million for this purpose and allowed allies with the mafia, which had suffered severe losses from the shutdown of mafia activities in Cuba. On October 13, the U.S. halted most exports to Cuba and initiated an economic embargo. In retaliation, INRA seized control of 383 private companies on October 14 and seized another 166 U.S. companies operating in Cuba on October 25. On December 16, the Americans eliminated the quota carrying Cuban sugar, the country”s primary export, to the United States. In September 1960 Castro flew to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Offended by the attitude of the Shelburne Hotel, which hosted the world”s elite, he and his entourage stayed at the cheap and run-down Theresa Hotel in the impoverished Harlem district of the city. There he met with journalists and anti-establishment activists such as Malcolm X. He also met with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The leaders in their conversations jointly highlighted the poverty of U.S. citizens in areas i.e. Harlem. Castro described as a city where persecution of blacks or poor Americans takes place. The relationship between Castro and Khrushchev was friendly. Both brought out applause for each other during their speeches at the Assembly. Although Castro publicly denied that he was a socialist, Khrushchev informed his entourage that the Cuban would become “the light of socialism in Latin America.” Castro met with four other politicians, Polish First Secretary Władysław Gomułka and Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov, and two socialist leaders, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. During the evening meeting, he established a “Fair Play” Committee toward Cuba. Present at the Committee”s founding meeting were Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, Charles Wright Mills and Isidor Feinstein Stone, among others. Local “Fair Play” committees were established throughout the United States and Canada. Among the Committee”s early supporters were well-known individuals: William Appleman Williams, Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, as well as Hispanic Americans Waldo Frank and Carleton Beals.
Faced with the loss of commercial links with Western countries, attempts were made to replace them with closer commercial relations with Eastern bloc countries, visiting a number of socialist countries and signing trade agreements. In late 1960, Guevara visited Czechoslovakia, the USSR, the Democratic People”s Republic of Korea, Hungary, and the German Democratic Republic. On December 17, 1960, he signed a key agreement in East Berlin.
The U.S. government believed that Castro-style governments were the greatest threat to Latin American countries. At the time, these countries were struggling with corruption, plutocracy, poverty, and feudalism, making them vulnerable to increased revolutionary influence. The conflict between Castro”s government and the United States had a strong impact on the countries of the region. One goal of U.S. diplomacy was to isolate Cuba on the continent and prevent a similar revolution elsewhere in Latin America. A secondary goal was to involve the Organization of American States (OAS) in efforts to bring about Castro”s downfall. OAS member states were to sever diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba in solidarity. These actions were also intended to get the OAS more strongly involved in the fight against communism in the Western Hemisphere. However, lack of sufficient support from the OAS, which was careful not to escalate the conflict (Cuba, under pressure, could move even closer to the USSR), and deteriorating relations with Cuba forced the United States to take other, more radical action. In March 1961, the CIA helped Cuban immigrants in Miami form the Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC), chaired by José Miró Cardon, the former prime minister of Cuba. Cardon became the de facto leader of the interim government planned after the overthrow of Castro”s government. In April 1960, the CIA began recruiting Cuban immigrants in Miami. By July 1960, training and coaching was being conducted on Useppa Island, and at various other facilities located in South Florida. Specialized training took place in Panama. Prior to the invasion, the CIA supported and supplied weapons to various guerrilla groups in the Escambray Mountains. The rebels were not included in the invasion plans because of information security concerns. On April 3, 1961, a bombing of a militia barracks in Bayamo was carried out, killing four militiamen and wounding eight; on April 6, the Hershey sugar factory in Matanzas was destroyed by sabotage. On April 14, 1961, guerrillas fought Cuban government forces near Las Cruces; several soldiers from the government side were killed and some wounded.
In January 1961, Castro ordered the U.S. ambassador in Havana to reduce his staff (which numbered 300), suspecting that many were conducting espionage activities. The US responded by ending diplomatic relations with Cuba and increasing funding for anti-Castro dissidents. CIA-funded militants began attacking ships trading with Cuba and launched bomb attacks on factories, stores, and sugar mills. Both Eisenhower and his successor John F. Kennedy implemented a plan for CIA aid to a dissident militia, the Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Front. The presidents urged the militia to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. The plan resulted in the organization of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. Rebels bombed three Cuban airfields with CIA-supplied B-26s; the U.S. announced that the perpetrators were Cuban army air force pilots who had fled the country; Castro considered this disinformation. Fearing an invasion, the government ordered the arrest of those suspected of counterrevolutionary activities. He publicly stated “the imperialists cannot forgive us for making a socialist revolution under their noses.” This was the first announcement from Castro that his government was socialist.
The Cuban security apparatus knew of the impending invasion through its secret intelligence networks, conversations with members of the brigade, and reports from American and foreign newspapers. The Cuban government was warned by two senior KGB officers, Osvaldo Cabrera Sánchez and “Aragon”; the former died violently before and the latter after the invasion. The general Cuban public was not well informed about the planned “uprising”; the only source of information for Cubans was the CIA-funded Radio Swan, broadcasting from the Honduran islands. By May 1960, almost all public communications in Cuba were in government hands.
The actual leadership of the island”s defenses became a matter of dispute, although most sources commonly identify Fidel as managing centrally from distant Havana. In preparation for the invasion, the island was divided into three parts, with forces in the east of the island commanded by Raul, in the west by Che Guevara, and in the center by Major Juan Almeida. Sergio del Valle Jiménez was director of operations at Headquarters in Havana. Orlando Rodriguez Puerta, former commander of Fidel Castro”s personal guard, became one of the commanders of Cuban government forces in Matanzas province, operating immediately north of the combat zone. The military advisors, trained in the USSR and brought to Cuba, came from Eastern Bloc countries. Some of them had held senior positions in the Soviet military during World War II. Among the Soviet military mission were also veterans of the Spanish Civil War, the so-called “Spanish Soviets,” who had lived in the USSR for a long time. Among the Spanish Civil War veterans residing in Cuba, the highest ranking were Spanish Communists Francisco Ciutat de Miguel, Enrique Lister, and Cuban-born Alberto Bayo. Ciutat de Miguel was a significant advisor to Cuban forces in the central regions.
The CIA-Democratic Revolutionary Front troops numbered 1,400 and were grouped in Brigade 2506 in Nicaragua. During the night, the brigade landed at the Bay of Pigs and got into a shootout with a local revolutionary militia unit. Castro ordered Captain José Ramón Fernández to launch a counteroffensive. After bombarding the ships of the invading forces and quickly erecting fortifications, Castro forced the brigade to surrender as early as April 20. The 1189 captured rebels were interrogated by a team of journalists, an event that was broadcast live on television. Castro personally interrogated them on April 25. 14 of them were tried for crimes committed by the revolution, while the rest returned safely to the U.S. in exchange for $25 million worth of food and medical products. Castro”s victory was a powerful symbol throughout Latin America, but it also increased internal opposition from primarily middle-class Cubans, many of whom had been detained in the run-up to the invasion. Although most were released within days, many fled to the U.S. to live later in Florida. Nevertheless, Castro”s popularity after the invasion was the greatest since the revolution.
As part of the consolidation of “socialist Cuba,” Castro united MR-26-7, the People”s Socialist and Revolutionary Party in the Directorate into a single ruling party operating on the principle of Leninist democratic centralism. The new organization was called the Organizaciones Revolucionarias Integradas (Organizaciones Revolucionarias Integradas – ORI), and in 1962 it was renamed the United Party of the Socialist Revolution of Cuba (PURSC). Although the USSR was hesitant to recognize Castro”s socialism, he deepened relations with that country. He sent his son, Fidelito, to study at Lomonosov University in Moscow and large numbers of Soviet technicians came to the island. Castro was awarded the International Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet government. In December 1961, Castro admitted that he had remained a Marxist-Leninist for years, and in his second declaration, which he delivered in Havana, he called on Latin American nations to bring about revolutions. In response, the U.S. successfully persuaded the Organization of American States to expel Cuba, and as a result the Soviets privately reprimanded Castro for his recklessness, while Castro”s stance was supported by the Chinese. Despite its ideological affinity with China, during the Soviet-Chinese split, Cuba allied itself with the wealthier USSR, which offered economic and military aid to the island.
The party began the process of shaping Cuba according to the Soviet model, and people such as prostitutes and homosexuals were considered social deviants (and Castro considered the latter group to be bourgeois). However, government officials spoke out against his homophobia and many gay men served in the Military Units for Productive Assistance (Unidades Militares de Ayuda la Productión – UMAP). Castro took responsibility for a policy partially hostile to homosexuals and called it a “great injustice,” for which he apologized in 2010. Nevertheless, homosexual contact was legalized in Cuba as early as 1979. In 1993, the age of legal homosexual and heterosexual contact was equalized to 16. Since 1993, those declaring themselves homosexual have been allowed to join the Communist Party of Cuba. Cuba”s economy has suffered from the invasion and trade embargo. After the Cárdenas protests, the government was forced to ration some products. Government reports showed that the “old communists” loyal to Moscow, i.e. Aníbal Escalante and Blas Roca Calderio of the PSP, did not enjoy the support of the Cuban people, so in March 1962 Castro removed the most prominent “old communists” from the government, accusing them of “sectarianism”. On a personal level, Castro remained increasingly reclusive, and his relationship with Guevara became strained as Che became increasingly anti-Soviet and pro-Chinese over time.
As a result of the operation, Castro consolidated his power and the U.S. compromised on the international stage. Since then, the United States has not conducted a military operation against Cuba on a similar scale. The Americans have focused on attempts on Castro”s life. Dozens of them had already been organized, and terrorist actions against civilians were also carried out (Operation Mangusta). The program was headed by Edward Lansdale of the Department of Defense and William King Harvey of the CIA. Lansdale was chosen because of his success in fighting communist militias in the Philippines and his experience in maintaining the Ngô Đình Diệm regime in Vietnam. Samuel Halpern was an organizer and coordinator for the CIA, U.S. Army, Department of Commerce, Treasury, and many other government agencies.
In 1962, Operation Northwoods was conceived, approved by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and presented to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara for approval. The plan was to conduct covert false flag operations to justify intervention in Cuba. Among the activities designed to secure support for intervention were both real and simulated attacks allegedly carried out by the Cuban government. Real or sham attacks targeted Cuban refugees, American military targets, and civilian aircraft. One variant of the plan proposed unleashing a Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, other Florida cities, and even in Washington itself. The CIA operation had a base in Miami (JMWAVE), among other activities, also conducted cooperation with the local mafia during the preparations for the assassination; William Harvey was one of the officers who directly handled the case of John Roselli (a former aide to Al Capone.
A number of individual plans were devised by the CIA to assassinate Castro. Among them were to discredit him in the public eye by contaminating his clothing with thallium, which would cause the dictator to go bald and lose his famous beard; to spray the television studio with a hallucinogenic agent before a television appearance; to soak his smoked cigars in a substance that caused temporary distraction and serve them before a public appearance; to assassinate him by poisoning Castro”s favorite cigars with botulism, to place explosives in diving cylinders, and many others.
Faced with a weak American agent in Cuba, the CIA turned to the Mafia for help. In October 1961, a vaguely presented plan to kill Castro with the help of the Mafia was approved by the CIA director. However, there was no consultation within the National Security Committee or the Task Force. The implementation of the plan was handled by James O”Connell, head of the CIA”s Office of Supply and a former FBI associate. He hired a private investigator and also former FBI employee, Robert A. Maheu, who contacted Johnny Roselli, a former Havana casino owner. Roselli made contact through Chicago mob boss Momo Salvatore Giancana with former Havana syndicate boss Santos Trafficante. These men agreed to the offered payment of $150,000 and in January 1962 CIA-made pills containing botulism were sent to the assassin who was to poison Fidel Castro. However, this could not be done because, according to Roselli”s explanation, the first assassin lost his job and thus his access to Castro, and in the second case, in April 1962, the Cuban leader stopped visiting the restaurant where he was planning to poison him. The whole affair began to become a comedy for O”Conelli when the FBI reported that Giacanta was telling friends about his assignment, and the risk of further leaks and the possibility of blackmail became quite real. Later, suspicions arose that Mafia men might have deceived the CIA. It was even suggested that Trafficante was an informant paid by the Cuban government.
Faced with NATO”s military superiority, Khrushchev wanted to install Soviet R-12 MRBM nuclear missiles in Cuba. Castro agreed to this believing it would guarantee Cuba”s security and serve the cause of socialism. The decision was made in secret, known only to the Castro brothers, Guevara, Dorticós and security chief Ramiro Valdes. In October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred because of the CIA”s discovery of designs that could be used by the Russians to deploy ballistic missiles in Cuba. Castro stated that the missiles were only needed to defend the country. Castro urged the USSR to nuke the U.S. in the event of an attack on Cuba, however, Khrushchev desperately avoided nuclear war. Castro left the negotiations, during which Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for a commitment from the U.S. that it would not attack Cuba again and the U.S. government would withdraw its MRBMs from Turkey and Italy. Castro felt betrayed by Khrushchev and soon became ill. He created a five-point plan in which he demanded that the U.S. end the embargo, withdraw from the Guantanamo naval base, stop supporting dissidents, and abandon violations of Cuban airspace and territorial waters. He presented his demands to Burmese-born UN Secretary General U Thant, the US ignored them, and Castro himself refused to introduce a UN inspection team to Cuba.
In April 1963, he visited the USSR at Khrushchev”s personal invitation. He visited 14 cities there, and in Moscow”s Red Square, he admired the Labour Day parade. During his visit, he was awarded the Order of Lenin and an honorary doctorate from Moscow University. He returned to Cuba with new ideas. Inspired by the success of the Soviet newspaper Pravda, he merged the daily newspapers Hoy and Revolucion to form a new daily, Granma. He oversaw major investments in sports, which led to an increase in Cuba”s international sports reputation. The government temporarily allowed emigration (except for men between the ages of 15 and 26), thus getting rid of thousands of opponents. In 1963 Castro”s mother died. This was the last time his private life was reported in the Cuban press. In 1964 he came to Moscow, officially to sign a new five-year sugar trade agreement, but also to discuss the consequences of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In October 1956, the party was officially renamed the Cuban Communist Party with the Central Committee at its head.
After Kennedy”s assassination, the Fair Play Committee against Cuba gained worldwide publicity. This was due to the activities within its ranks of Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans, who was charged with the assassination of the President. Like almost everything associated with the Kennedy assassination, the Fair Play to Cuba Committee became the subject of much speculation.The Committee was suspected of collaborating with the USSR, with the goal of supporting the American Communists. Paradoxically, it was closely associated with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party of the United States. Toward the end of its activities, the Committee was suspected of being under substantial or complete control by the FBI or other American government agencies. The puppet organization was intended to identify Communists and their sympathizers (Some of Oswald”s FPCC flyers had the address “544 Camp Street” printed on them. This was the same building where Guy Banister, an ex-FBI agent involved in counterintelligence activities, had his office). In 2002, in his book The Kennedy Conspiracy (2002), Anthony Summers stated that documents indicated that CIA as well as FBI agents had infiltrated the FPCC. He quoted a CIA officer, “We did everything we could to make sure it didn”t happen – to erase … penetrate, I think Oswald may have participated in the attempted penetration.”
Despite Soviet misgivings, Castro continued to call for global revolution and funded leftist militants. He supported Che Guevara”s “Andean project,” a failed plan to build guerrilla movements in the mountains of Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina, and allowed revolutionary groups from around the world to train in Cuba. This number included the Vietcong and the Black Panthers. He recognized that West Africa was ripe for revolution. During the Morocco-Algerian War (Sand War), he sent soldiers and medics to aid the socialist government of Algeria led by Ahmed Ben Bella. He formed an alliance with the government of Alphonse Massamba-Débata in Congo-Brazzaville, and in 1965 he allowed Che Guevara, who was training revolutionaries fighting the pro-Western regime, to travel to Congo-Kinshasa. The representatives of the Mozambican independence movement FRELIMO also cooperated with the Cubans, in return for which they received support from Castro. Castro supported a number of other national liberation organizations, including the Front for the Liberation of Eritrea (until the putsch of 1974) and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola.
In 1966 he organized the Tri-continental Conference of Africa, Asia and Latin America in Havana. These activities allowed Castro to become a major player on the world political scene. The conference also gave birth to the Organization of Latin American Solidarity (OLAS), whose leader remained Havana. The purpose of the organization was to support revolutionary movements in Latin America. Castro”s growing role on the world stage caused his strained relations with the Soviets under Leonid Brezhnev. Castro refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, claiming he was motivated by a desire to maintain Cuba”s independence and stated that the U.S. and the USSR were trying to dominate the Third World. A supporter of cooperation with the USSR, Aníbal Escalante began organizing a network of anti-government opposition, and in January 1968 he and his supporters were arrested for passing state secrets to Moscow. Castro eventually gave in to pressure from Brezhnev and in August 1968 condemned the Prague Spring and praised the Eastern Bloc invasion of Czechoslovakia. Fidel, as well as the foreign minister, Raul Roa, was personally in favor of democratizing Czechoslovakia. This decision was prompted by the Soviet threat to cut off oil for Cuba. Further clandestine talks were held in Cuba with the Chinese about forming a bloc in opposition to the USSR. Under the influence of the Chinese campaign of the Great Leap Forward, Castro announced the Great Revolutionary Offensive, which closed down the remaining privately owned stores and businesses and denounced their owners as capitalist counterrevolutionaries. In May 1967, relations with Venezuela deteriorated. The Machurucuto incident saw the Venezuelan National Guard and army clash with a 12-man squad of Cubans and Venezuelan rebels trained by them.
In January 1969, Castro publicly celebrated the tenth anniversary of the revolution in Revolution Square. He asked the assembled crowds if they would tolerate reduced sugar rations, which reflected the country”s economic problems. Most of the sugar crop was shipped to the USSR, but in 1969 the crop was severely damaged by a hurricane. The government postponed the 1969-70 New Year”s Day holiday to another date. This was to extend the harvest. Castro publicly offered his resignation, but the assembled crowd rejected the idea. Despite Cuba”s economic problems, many of Castro”s social reforms remained popular. The “achievements of the revolution” in education, medical care, and road building were particularly appreciated, as were government policies to establish “direct democracy.” Cuba turned to the Soviets for economic assistance. Between 1970 and 1972, economists from the USSR came to the country and helped to plan and organize the Cuban economy. The Cuban-Soviet Commission for Economic, Scientific, and Technological Cooperation was established for cooperation, and in 1971 Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin visited the island. In July 1972, Cuba joined the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), an economic organization of socialist countries. Despite the improved economic situation, the country”s agricultural production continued to be limited.
In May 1970, Alpha 66 terrorists operating from Florida sank two Cuban fishing boats and captured their crews. In return, they demanded the release of Alpha 66 members imprisoned in Cuba. Under U.S. pressure, the hostages were released and Castro welcomed them as heroes. In April 1971, he was condemned by much of the world media for arresting dissident poet Herberto Padilla. When the poet fell ill, he was visited in the hospital by Castro and then released after he confessed to the charges against him. Shortly thereafter, the government created the National Cultural Council under which intellectuals and artists supported the government administration. In 1971 he visited Chile, ruled by a center-left coalition. He spent three weeks in the country. Castro supported the socialist reforms of President Salvador Allende. While in Chile, he gave speeches and press conferences. Suspecting the existence of strong right-wing elements in the Chilean army, he advised Allende to purge army structures before they staged a coup. Castro was right, and Allende, who disobeyed his advice, was overthrown in a 1973 military coup. Although Allende himself invited Castro to the country and the two had previously maintained friendly relations, Castro nevertheless privately expressed dissatisfaction and skepticism about Allende”s peaceful rule, but Cuba and Chile nevertheless established greater cooperation. After 1973, the military right established a military junta in Chile following a coup. He also traveled to West Africa, where he met with the socialist president of Guinea, Ahmed Sékou Touré. During his speech, he informed the crowd of Guineans that Touré was the greatest of all African leaders. He then embarked on a seven-week tour during which he visited his allies in Africa and Eurasia. He visited Algeria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. On each of his trips he enjoyed meeting ordinary people, visiting factories and farms or talking and joking with citizens. Although publicly he was very supportive of these governments, privately he urged them to do more to help revolutionary movements in other parts of the world, especially during the Vietnam War.
In September 1973, he ended up in Algiers, where he attended the fourth summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. Various members of the Movement were critical of Castro”s attendance, claiming that Cuba, which supported the Soviet bloc, should not be allowed to attend this conference. It was also controversial that in his speech he praised the USSR and stated that the country was not imperialist. When the Yom Kippur War broke out in October 1973 between Israel and an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria, his government sent 4,000 troops to prevent Israeli forces from invading Syrian territory. In 1974, Cuba severed relations with Israel because of the country”s increasingly close relationship with the United States and its mistreatment of Palestinians during the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This decision earned him the respect of leaders throughout the Arab world, particularly Libyan leader Mu”ammar al-Qaddafi, who became his friend and ally. Castro also provided assistance to the nascent special forces in Iraq, and personally befriended that country”s leader, Saddam Hussein. In 1974, Cuba experienced an economic boom, primarily due to the high price of sugar on world markets, but also under the influence of the establishment of new trade points of Cuba with Canada, Argentina and in parts of Western Europe. Many Latin American countries began to work for the readmission of Cuba to the Organization of American States, but these ideas were abandoned in 1975 due to the opinion of the American politician Henry Kissinger. During the First National Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, Cuba was officially declared a socialist state. The congress adopted a new constitution based on the Soviet model, and the positions of president and prime minister were abolished. Castro assumed the presidency of the newly created Council of State and Council of Ministers, making him both head of state and head of government. From the late 1960s and especially in the 1970s to the early 1980s, he granted political asylum to African-American activists of the civil rights movement. Among them were Nehanda Abiodu, Eldridge Cleaver, Lorenzo Kom”boa Ervin, Huey P. Newton, and Assata Shakur.
As President of the Council of State
He saw Africa as “the weakest link in the imperialist chain”. In November 1975, he sent 230 military advisors to South Africa to assist the leftist Angolan People”s Liberation Movement – Labour Party in Angola”s ongoing civil war. As the U.S. and South Africa increased their support for the Angolan opposition organizations; the National Front for the Liberation of Angola and UNITA, Castro sent 18,000 troops to the country who played an important role in the conflict and forced South African troops to retreat. Castro personally visited Angola where he met with President Agostinho Neto, as well as with Guinean President Sékou Touré and President Luís Cabral of Guinea-Bissau. During the meeting, he pledged to support Mozambique”s leftist government in its civil war against the RENAMO rebels. In February he visited Algeria and Libya, and spent ten days in Libya with Gaddafi. He then began talks with the Marxist government of South Yemen (People”s Democratic Republic of Yemen). He then traveled to Somalia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Angola, where he was greeted by crowds as a hero in the fight against South Africa”s racist regime known as apartheid.
When the Ogaden War (Somalia”s attack on Ethiopia) broke out in 1977, although Somali President Mohammed Siad Barre was a previous ally of Cuba, Castro warned him against such expansionist actions and as a result supported the Marxist government of Ethiopia headed by Mengystu Haile Marjam. Castro sent troops to Ethiopia under the command of General Arnaldo Ochoa. When Mengistu forced the Somalis to retreat, then proceeded to suppress the Eritrean People”s Liberation Front, Castro then withdrew his support for Ethiopia and refused to support the suppression of the rebellion launched by this national liberation group. He also extended support to revolutionary movements in Latin America. He gave support to the Sandinistas fighting against the right-wing and pro-American regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The revolution was a success, and in July 1979 the Sandinistas overthrew Somoza. After a thwarted coup in São Tomé and Príncipe in 1978, he sent political, military, and economic advisers to the country. Castro”s critics accuse the government of contributing to the deaths of an estimated 14,000 Cubans who died in overseas missions through its participation in military ventures (according to the anti-Castro Carthage Foundation, founded by the Center for a Free Cuba).
In 1979, the Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement was held in Havana at which he was elected president of the Movement. In his capacity as both leader of Cuba and chairman of the Movement, he appeared at the United Nations General Assembly in October 1979 and gave a speech on the differences between the rich and poor worlds. His speech was greeted with great applause from other world leaders. However, Castro found himself in an awkward position after the UN General Assembly condemned Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Cuba”s relations with North America as a whole improved under Mexican President Luis Echevvería, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Carter continued to criticize human rights abuses in Cuba, but he treated Cuba with a better approach that earned him the respect of Castro. Given Carter”s sincerity, Castro released some political prisoners and allowed Cuban exiles to visit relatives on the island. Castro hoped that Carter would respond to these changes by lifting the economic embargo and stopping CIA support for dissident fighters.
In the 1980s Cuba”s economy was again in trouble, this was after the market price of sugar fell and the crop was decimated in 1979. Needing money, Cuba began unofficially trading electronic equipment with the U.S. through Panama. Relations with the U.S. were not improving and the government used emigration to the U.S. to rid the country of criminals or mentally disturbed people. In 1980 Ronald Reagan became the president of the USA and adopted a very aggressive policy towards Castro. In 1981, Castro accused the US of waging biological warfare against Cuba. In 1982, the US government listed Cuba as a state sponsoring terrorism. The Americans argued the decision to include Cuba on the list with the Cuban government”s alleged support for the Basque separatist organization ETA and the Colombian guerrilla FARC.
Despite his disdain for Argentina”s right-wing military junta, Castro supported it during the 1982 Falklands War with Britain, and Cuba offered military aid to the Argentines. He supported the leftist New Jewel Movement, which took power in Grenada in 1979, and sent doctors, teachers and technicians to help develop the country. He personally befriended Grenada”s president, Maurice Bishop. When Bishop was assassinated in a coup led by a hardliner and pro-Soviet, Bernard Coard, Castro condemned his assassination but continued to support the Grenada government in a more cautious manner. The U.S. used the assassination as the basis for an invasion of the island. Castro sent Grenada his own troops to help, condemned the invasion, and compared the U.S. to Nazi Germany. Fearing a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua, he sent Ochoa to train Sandinista troops in guerrilla tactics, but received little support from the USSR in this. In the 1980s, he supported the Salvadoran Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front waging a civil war against the ruling junta and the National Revolutionary Unity waging a war against the government in Guatemala.
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the general secretary of the CPSU. Gorbachev implemented reforms to increase press freedom (glasnost) and economic decentralization (perestroika) to strengthen socialism. Like many orthodox Marxist critics, Castro feared that the reforms would weaken the socialist state and allow capitalist elements to regain control over it. Gorbachev later admitted that he complied with U.S. demands to reduce support for Cuba which was the cause of deteriorating Soviet-Cuban relations. When Gorbachev visited Cuba in April 1989, he informed Castro that perestroika meant an end to subsidies to the island. Castro ignored invitations to liberalize along Soviet lines. In 1989 a court, despite calls for leniency, sentenced to death several senior military officers including Ochoa and Tony de la Guardia who were accused of complicity in corruption and cocaine smuggling. In October 1985, at the urging of a doctor, he gave up smoking cigars, a decision considered an example for some Cubans to follow.
He became passionately interested in the Third World debt problem, noting that the Third World would never escape the debts incurred by world banks and First World governments. In 1985, Havana hosted five international conferences on the world debt problem. In November 1987, he spent much more time in civil war-ravaged Angola. Troops of the leftist government were being forced to retreat. That country”s President José Eduardo dos Santos successfully called for more Cuban troops to be sent to the country. Castro himself later admitted that he devoted more time to Angola than Cuba at the time because he believed Santos”s victory would lead to the collapse of apartheid. Gorbachev called for a negotiated end to the conflict, and in 1988 he organized quadrilateral talks between the USSR, the US, Cuba, and South Africa; the powers agreed that all foreign troops should withdraw from Angola. Castro was angered by Gorbachev”s approach, believing that in favor of relaxing relations with the U.S. he was abandoning support for the world”s poor nations.
In Eastern Europe, communist governments collapsed as a result of capitalist reforms in 1989-1991, and many Western observers expected a similar course in Cuba. An increasingly isolated Cuba, despite Castro”s personal dislike of the country”s leader, established better relations with the right-wing government of Panama headed by Manuel Noriega (who had been a U.S. ally). Noriega, however, was overthrown by the U.S. invasion of December 1989. In February 1990, Castro”s allies in Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas, were defeated in elections by the U.S.-funded National Opposition Union. With the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the U.S. won a majority vote at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland to pass a resolution condemning human rights violations in Cuba. Cuba said this was a manifestation of U.S. hegemony in the world and refused to allow the U.N. investigative delegation to travel to the country.
The collapse of the USSR ended a phase of favorable trade with the Eastern bloc, with Castro publicly declaring that Cuba had entered a “special period in peacetime.” Gasoline rations were greatly reduced, and many factories performing less essential tasks were closed. Castro planned to resort to subsistence farming. The President hoped to restore Marxism-Leninism in the USSR, for which the Moscow putsch of August 1991 provided the opportunity. The Soviet Union officially collapsed when Boris Yeltsin abolished the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and introduced a capitalist multi-party democracy to the country. Yeltsin despised Castro and developed contacts with the Miami-based Cuban-American National Foundation. Faced with the collapse of the USSR, he tried to improve relations with capitalist countries. He welcomed Western politicians and investors to the island, befriended Spanish right-wing politician Manuel Fraga Iribarne, and took an interest in Margaret Thatcher”s policies in Britain; he believed that Cuban socialism could learn from Thatcherism”s personal initiative and result in low taxes. The Cuban government stopped supporting foreign fighters, and Fidel Castro himself refrained from praising the FARC. During a visit to Colombia in 1994, he called for a negotiated peace, and in 1995 he favored talks between the Mexican government and the Zapatistas. Since the early 1990s, he has portrayed himself as a moderate politician on the world stage.
In 1991, Havana became the host of the Pan American Games. Prior to the games, the government was involved in building stadiums and accommodations for the athletes. Castro admitted that the Games were expensive to organize, but they were a great success for Cuba. Foreign journalists were regularly met with crowds chanting “Fidel! Fidel!”. Cuba was the first Latin American country to be able to beat the USA to the top of the gold medal table. Support for Castro remained strong, but small anti-government demonstrations by the opposition broke out. At the same time, the opposition rejected calls for an armed anti-government uprising from abroad. In August 1994, the most serious anti-Castro demonstration in history occurred when 200 to 300 young men began throwing rocks at police, demanding to be allowed to leave for Miami. The group was subdued by a larger crowd of Castro supporters. The supporters were joined by Castro himself, who told reporters that the men were anti-social and had been misled by the American media. The protests were dispersed without any reported injuries. Fearing that opposition groups would attack the government, he organized a defense strategy called the “war of all the people” in which he planned a sweeping campaign of guerrilla warfare and the unemployed were tasked with building a network of bunkers and tunnels.
He recognized the need for reforms that would allow Cuban socialism to survive in a world dominated by the capitalist free market. In October 1991, the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party was held in Santiago. At the Congress, a number of significant changes in government were announced. Castro stepped down as head of government and was replaced by the much younger Carlos Lage Davila, himself remaining head of the Communist Party and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Many senior members of the government retired and were replaced by younger colleagues. A large number of economic changes were proposed, which were then put to a referendum. Some private activities, including small businesses and agricultural markets, were legalized in an attempt to stimulate economic growth, and the dollar became legal tender. Certain restrictions on emigration were eased, allowing the most dissatisfied citizens to move to the United States. Further democratization was proposed through members of the National Assembly elected directly by the people rather than through municipal and provincial teams as before. Castro entered into a debate between supporters and opponents of the reforms, and over time he became increasingly sympathetic to their opponents, arguing that such reforms must be carried out at a slower pace. After 1994, investors from Europe, Canada, Mexico, China, and even the U.S. circumvented bans imposed by the U.S. government and did business in Cuba through Israeli companies.
The government has bet on tourism and biotechnology. By 1995, tourism as a primary source of income had overtaken the country”s dominant sugar industry. Thousands of Mexican and Spanish tourists came to the country, and this led to some increase in prostitution, which was no longer fought under political liberalization, although officially it remained illegal. The economic difficulties of the early part of the decade led many Cubans to turn to religion, both Catholicism and the syncretic Santeria faith. Although Castro had long considered the faith a sign of backwardness, he softened his approach to the church and religious institutions. He carried out liberalization in this area and, for the first time, allowed believers of various churches to join the Communist Party. Although he considered the Catholic Church to be a backward and pro-capitalist institution, he allowed Pope John Paul II to visit Cuba in January 1998. The visit led to a simultaneous strengthening of the position of both the Church in Cuba and the Castro government.
In the early 1990s, he led an environmentalist campaign against the waste of natural resources and global warming. He accused the US of being the primary threat to global ecology. The ecological policies of his government were very effective. By 2006, Cuba was the only country in the world with an ecological footprint of less than 1.8 gha per capita, and its human development index was 0.8 in 2007. At the same time, he became a supporter of the anti-globalist movement. He criticized US global hegemony and excessive control in the hands of multinational corporations. He maintained anti-apartheid views, and at the July 26, 1991 celebration he met with South African democracy activist Nelson Mandela, who had recently been released from prison. Mandela praised Cuba”s commitment to combating apartheid South Africa”s influence in Angola and personally thanked Castro. In 1994, he attended Mandela”s inauguration as president of South Africa. In 2001, he attended the Conference Against Racism in South Africa, where he lectured on the global spread of racial stereotypes through American films. He personally believed that special period reforms had nothing to do with neoliberalism and capitalism. According to him, in a world ruled by these ideologies, Cuba remained socialist and would defend the principles and goals of this ideology to the last atom.
The widespread success of Latino candidates of the left in the 21st century became known as the “pink wave.” There were internal divisions and trends within the South and Central American left. Cuba”s collaborators became Evo Morales of Bolivia and his Movement for Socialism (Morales won the 2005 presidential election) and Rafael Correa of Ecuador and his PAIS Alliance (won the 2006 election). Evo Morales called him “the grandfather of all revolutionaries in Latin America.” In 2007, Nicaragua”s elections were won by socialist Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front. In 2008, the Cuban Communist Party supported Venezuela”s plans to create the Fifth International. On November 21, 2009, the First International Meeting of Leftist Parties was held in Caracas.
Expanded cooperation with the region”s right-wing governments. Cuba has participated as a mediator between the leftist guerrillas and the Colombian government since the 1990s. In December 2005, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional and the Colombian government began a round of talks in Havana. ELN military commanders; Antonio García, as well as Francisco Galán and Ramiro Vargas participated in the talks. The talks were the result of three months of previous consultations with various sectors of Colombian society through the “House of Peace” (Casa de Paz). Representatives from Norway, Spain and Switzerland joined the talks as observers. The talks ended on December 22 and both sides agreed to meet again in January 2006. The only country in the region with which relations deteriorated was Panama, ruled by center-right Mireya Moscoso. In 2000, Cuba broke off diplomatic relations with Panama after the president pardoned four dissidents accused of attempting to assassinate Castro. Relations were re-established in 2005 after the electoral victory of center-left Martín Torrijos.
Cuba”s economic problems were supported by Venezuela”s democratic-socialist and anti-imperialist president, Hugo Chávez, elected to office in 1999. In 2002, Castro”s government condemned a coup against Venezuela”s leftist government. In 2000, Castro and Chávez signed a deal in which Cuba sent 20,000 medics to Venezuela; in return, Venezuela would send 53,000 barrels of oil per day to Cuba at preferential rates. The deal was strengthened in 2004 with changes, Cuba sent 40,000 medics to Venezuela and Venezuela provided Cuba with 90,000 barrels per day. That same year, Castro initiated the Mision Milagro medical project to provide free eye surgery to 300,000 people from both countries. The alliance increased the capacity of the Cuban economy, and in May 2005 Castro doubled the minimum wage for 1.6 million workers, raised pensions and provided new kitchen appliances for the country”s poorest residents. Under the “Mission Miracle” program, Venezuela and Cuba have provided free health care to more than 1,139,798 people (as of July 2010, an average of 5,000 surgeries per week at 74 medical centers throughout Venezuela). The program has also benefited several thousand people in other Latin American countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
In 2006, he co-founded the economic alliance Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América with the presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela. The organization was created as a counterweight to the Free Trade Area of the Americas proposed by the United States. Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic also joined ALBA. As part of the group”s activities, Cuba provided thousands of qualified doctors and teachers to the country in exchange for discounts on Venezuelan oil. That same year, he became president of the Non-Aligned Movement for the second time. He served in this role until 2008 and was then replaced by his brother who held the office until 2009. The leaders of these countries also formed the “Treaty on Trade of Nations”. In addition, in 1999 Cuba joined the Association for Latin American Integration, which aims to integrate the trade and economic interests of the associated countries. Cuba has also begun to actively follow the U.S. Mercosur Common Market, which Castro himself appeared before in 2006.
Cuba”s improved relations with countries throughout Latin America were accompanied by resentment toward the United States. However, after the massive damage caused by Hurricane Michelle in 2001, he successfully offered the U.S. a one-time purchase of food; however, the U.S. rejected his offer of humanitarian aid. He expressed solidarity with the U.S. after the September 11, 2001 attacks and condemned al-Qa”ida and offered Cuban airports for the use of U.S. aircraft for emergency landings. He later acknowledged that the attacks had given rise to a more aggressive U.S. foreign policy, which he considered harmful. In 2002, he lectured at the International Conference on Financing for Development. Cuba has the largest number of missionary doctors who are sent around the world with humanitarian aid, mainly to African and South American countries. After Hurricane Katrina, Fidel Castro again offered his humanitarian aid to the US, but President George W. Bush refused to accept it. From time to time, tensions between the two hostile countries arise. High-profile cases included the shooting down by Cuban fighter jets of two U.S. avionets that violated the island”s airspace and a court battle over a boy (Elián González) whose mother drowned while trying to escape to Florida.
Resignation from offices
On July 31, 2006, he transferred all his responsibilities to his brother. The transfer was described at the time as a temporary measure for the duration of Fidel”s illness. In February 2007, Raúl announced Fidel”s improved health and his participation in government meetings. Later that month, Fidel appeared on the Aló Presidente program hosted by Hugo Chávez. In April, Chávez declared to the press that Castro had “almost completely” recovered. On April 21, Fidel met with Wu Guanzheng of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China. In August he met with Chávez, who was visiting the country.
On February 19, 2008, Fidel Castro announced his formal resignation as President of the Council of State after 49 years of rule. He broke the world record for length of rule among dictators. He ruled Cuba from January 1, 1959 to February 24, 2008. He broke the record of DPRK leader Kim Ir Sen, who ruled from 1948 to 1994. On February 24, 2008, Fidel”s brother Raúl Castro officially became the leader of Cuba. After his retirement, Castro”s health deteriorated. The international press speculated that he had diverticulitis, but the Cuban government did not confirm this information. He continued to work with the Cuban people, was in charge of the “Reflections” column in Granma magazine, used a Twitter account, and gave occasional lectures. In January 2009, he asked Cubans not to worry about the lack of media coverage of him, and not to worry about his ill health and expected death. He continued to meet with foreign dignitaries and leaders; in 2009 he met with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
In 2009, there was a coup in Honduras. Castro declared solidarity with ousted president Manuel Zelaya. He compared the events in Honduras to General Pinochet”s coup in Chile in 1973. On February 22, 2012, he declared that the revolution in Libya was an attempt by U.S. imperialists to seize the country by force and denied reports of Gaddafi”s crimes, calling them a manipulation by the hostile media. In 2010, he gave his first public speech since his illness. He greeted Science Center staff and gave a television interview to the Cuban program Mesa Redonda Internacional; in the interview he discussed U.S.-North Korea and Iranian tensions. On August 7, 2010, he gave his first speech to the National Assembly in four years, in which he urged the U.S. not to take military action against these nations and warned of nuclear annihilation. When asked if Castro might rejoin the government, Culture Minister Abel Prieto told the BBC that he would always have a political presence, but probably never again as a member of the government – his new job is international politics.
He was the first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the only party in Cuba, since 1965. The second secretary, however, was his brother, Raúl Castro. On April 19, 2011, Fidel Castro resigned as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba in favor of Raúl Castro. Since then, he has remained without an official role in the state, but has rather acted as a statesman. In March 2012, Pope Benedict XVI visited the island and personally met with Castro. Although critical of the Cuban government, Benedict XVI condemned the U.S. embargo on the country. That same year, along with President Hugo Chávez, Castro was instrumental in coordinating peace talks between Colombia”s right-wing government and the left-wing FARC guerrilla organization, talks aimed at ending the conflict that had been going on since 1964. During the 2013 Korean crisis, he urged both the DPRK and the U.S. to exercise greater restraint. He called the tension on the peninsula “unbelievable and absurd” and said the war was not beneficial to either side. He called the crisis “one of the most serious threats of nuclear war” since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Fidel Castro died on November 25, 2016 in Havana, at the age of 90. The news of his death was announced on the night of November 25-26 by the dictator”s brother and successor, Raúl Castro (at 3:29 GMT on Saturday, November 26). The cause of death was the leader”s intestinal ailment, which earlier in 2006 had forced him to partially, and in 2008 to fully hand over power to his brother. He spent the final part of his life in partial isolation, occasionally commenting on events in the press and occasionally receiving foreign delegations.
President Raúl Castro also announced the fulfillment of his brother”s will, which included cremation, and the introduction of several days of national mourning.
On December 4, 2016, the urn containing his ashes was placed in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba.
Cuban authorities have declared a 9-day national mourning. It was announced that “all public activities will be suspended” during this time. All scheduled events will also be cancelled. The flag of Cuba in public places has been lowered to half mast. Radio and television broadcast news programs with patriotic and historical content during this time.
International opinion reacted very differently to the death of the Cuban leader.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, initially on his Twitter account wrote only “Fidel Castro is dead!”, but later stressed that the event could be the beginning for the Cuban people to resume their fight for freedom of elections. One of his campaign promises was to roll back the warming of U.S.-Cuba relations initiated at the end of Barack Obama”s second term. Trump announced that his administration “will do everything it can to ensure that the Cuban people can finally begin the path to prosperity and freedom.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that Cuba under Fidel Castro became free of foreign influence. The Russian politician also emphasized the warming of Cuban-Soviet and then Cuban-Russian relations during that time.
Pope Francis wrote to Raúl Castro “my sense of sorrow for Your Excellency and family.
Some world leaders (such as Indian Prime Minister Nerendra Modi and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) have emphasized their personal friendship with Fidel Castro.
Other world leaders (such as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev) have highlighted the Cuban revolutionary”s achievements for bringing socialism to the world.
Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, meanwhile, highlighted the Cuban president”s influence on social reforms in health and education, among other areas.
Fidel Castro”s death also caused euphoria among Cuban exiles in Florida. There was a spontaneous celebration of the leader”s death in the streets of Miami. Fidel Castro”s sister, Juanita, who has been in exile in the city for more than 50 years, announced that she would not attend the funeral in Havana because she had long opposed the regime of brothers Fidel and Raúl and stood in solidarity with the opposition.
Biographer Leycester Coltman described Castro as “hard working, self-sacrificing, loyal, generous and magnanimous,” noting that he could also be “vindictive and vindictive.” The biographer asserted that Castro “always had a deep sense of humor and could laugh at himself,” but also acted with “wild rage when he thought he had been humiliated.” According to Peter, Bourne was intolerant of those who did not share his views even in his youth. According to Bourne, the leader often met with ordinary citizens both at home and on foreign visits. He adopted a fatherly attitude toward his own people, and treated their representatives as if “they were part of his own gigantic family.” British historian Alex Von Tunzelmann stated that “though he was ruthless, he was a patriot, a man whose deep mission was to save the Cuban people. He was known for his long hours, often sleeping only between 3 and 4 am. After official meetings with foreign diplomats, he often met with them at his leisure. He possessed a “prodigious” memory, and during speeches he would readily cite reports and books he had read, thus presenting himself as an expert. He described Ernest Hemingway as his favorite writer, who, by the way, had lived in Cuba for some time and supported the overthrow of the military regime by Castro”s forces and was on good terms with the Cuban government. He was a great fan of reading, but had no interest in music. As a sports fan, he spent much time exercising regularly. He showed great interest in gastronomy, as well as wines and whiskey. Castro was known for his visits to the kitchen during which he discussed kitchen matters with his own cooks. He also exercised a love of guns, particularly pistols, since childhood. He was more enthusiastic about living in the country than in the city. According to his former bodyguard and now his political opponent, Juan Reinaldo Sánchez, despite his austerity, Castro lives in luxurious conditions.
Family and friends
He was married twice – to Mirta Díaz-Balart Gutierrez (1948-1955) and Dalia Soto del Valle (since 1980). He had nine children:
Castro”s private life, especially involving members of his family, is rarely portrayed in the Cuban media. Biographer Robert E. Quirk noted that throughout his life, the Cuban leader was “able to form lasting sexual relationships with any woman.” He married his first wife, Mirta Díaz-Balart, on October 11, 1948, and had a son with her, Fidel Ángel “Fidelito” Castro Díaz-Balart, born on September 1, 1949. Díaz-Balart and Castro divorced in 1955, and she remarried Emilio Núñez Blanco. After living in Madrid, Díaz-Balart reportedly returned to Havana to live with Fidelito and his family. Fidelito grew up in Cuba; he led Cuba”s atomic energy commission for a time, but was removed from that position by his father. With his second wife, Dalia Soto del Valle, Fidel has five sons, Antonio, Alejandro, Alexis, Alexander “Alex” and Ángel Castro Soto del Valle. While married to Mirta, Fidel had an affair with Natalia “Naty” Revuelta Clews, born in Havana in 1925. The fruit of the affair was Fidel”s daughter, Alina Fernández Revuelta. Natalia later married Orlando Fernández. Alina left Cuba in 1993. With a woman unknown to the media, he had a son, Jorge Ángel Castro, and a daughter, Francisco Pupo (born in 1953), who was the fruit of an affair. Pupo and her husband currently live in Miami. His sister Juanita Castro, who has been an opponent of his rule since the early 1960s, lives in the United States. While in power, his rule was supported by his two closest colleagues, former Havana mayor Pepin Naranjo and Fidel”s personal physician, René Vallejo. From 1980 until his death in 1995, Naranjo headed Castro”s team of advisers. He shared a deep friendship with his Revolutionary period comrade, Celia Sanchez, who accompanied him almost everywhere during the 1960s. By the mid-1960s, Vallejo and Sanchez had become his closest companions. Vallejo remained his personal physician from 1958 and died in 1969, while Celia Sanchez died in 1982. Castro was also a good friend of Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez.
Unlike many other communist leaders of the Soviet era, Castro”s government did not deliberately work to build a cult of the individual around him. Against Castro”s wishes, the leader”s popularity among segments of the Cuban population during the early years of his administration led to the creation of an informal cult. In 2006, the BBC reported that Castro”s image was frequently seen in Cuban stores, classrooms, cabs, and television. For 37 years, the leader wore nothing but an olive green military uniform in public to emphasize perpetual revolutionary activity. In 1994, he surprised visiting dignitaries at the Ibero-American Conference in Cartagena by giving his speech dressed in a guayabera folk shirt instead of military garb. A few months later, he appeared in Paris dressed in a dark civilian suit. The leader”s change of attire later in life was dictated by the influence of his personal tailor, Merel Van”t Wout. During his reign, fiery speeches that usually lasted for hours (Castro did not even use written notes) were cheered by large crowds of supporters. In Cuba he is often referred to as “El Caballo,” meaning “the horse,” a label given to him by Cuban artist Benny Moré. The nickname referred to the fact that in the 1950s and 1960s Castro was considered a womanizer and sex symbol. This reputation waned after footage was broadcast showing the leader”s skinny legs, as skinny legs were considered an unattractive trait in Cuba.
Castro”s views evolved from nationalist-democratic (before the overthrow of the dictatorship and immediately thereafter) to Marxist-Leninist. He described himself as a “socialist, Marxist, and Leninist.” He was also a passionate spokesman for Cuban nationalism; historian Richard Gott has noted that one of the keys to Castro”s success was his ability to combine the “twin themes of socialism and nationalism” and keep them in play until the end. Castro described Karl Marx and the Cuban nationalist, José Martí, as those who influenced him most politically. Gott believed that Martí ultimately remained more important than Marx in Castro”s views. Castro described Martí”s political ideas as “a philosophy of independence and a unique humanist philosophy.” As he himself emphasized, his anti-imperialist views were not rooted in Marxist philosophy. Rather, he drew from the teachings of Cuban history and from the poetry of the Cuban national bard, José Martí. Also from the ideas of Simón Bolívar. He was relatively socially conservative on many issues, opposing gambling, drug use, and prostitution, among others, which he viewed as morally wrong. Instead, he advocated family values, self-discipline, integration, and hard work. Marx himself, in his view, created a conception of human society without which “no argument can be formulated that leads to a reasonable interpretation of historical events.”
It is difficult to unequivocally answer the question of whether Castro was a communist in the early stages of the revolution. The only thing that can be said is that he did not preach communist or socialist slogans, and although he was surrounded by declared Marxists such as Che Guevara and his brother Raúl Castro, opposition politicians and the CIA did not classify him as a communist. He himself later stated that he was indeed a Marxist at the time, albeit not a fully conscious one, and that by declaring himself a communist he would not have succeeded in gaining power because “during the period of the insurrectionary struggle the people would not yet have understood the slogans of socialism, and the proclamation of such slogans would have resulted in direct intervention by imperialism.” Castro, who gained popularity primarily as a fighter for democracy, later formulated his own theory of direct democracy. The main features of this system, which was allegedly created in Cuba, were, in contrast to the “pseudo-democracy” in the U.S., sensitivity to social problems and maintaining direct contact with the public through rallies and speeches. Javier Pazos, one of his comrades during his guerrilla activities, describes him as follows: “The Fidel Castro I knew was certainly not a Marxist. Nor was he particularly interested in social revolution. He was first and foremost a political opportunist – a man of strong will and uncommon ambition. He thought in terms of gaining power and maintaining it.” Nevertheless, according to some sources, Castro himself warned his associates during the revolution against making him a communist. According to Wayne S. Smith, a staff member of the American Interest Section in Havana from (1979-1982), Castro was first and foremost committed to egalitarianism and hated any system in which one class or group of people lived much better than others. He wanted to build a system that would provide basic needs for all i.e. food, health care, adequate housing and education. The authoritarian nature of the Cuban Revolution in his view was largely due to his commitment to this goal. Castro was convinced that he was right and that his system was good for the people. Thus, anyone who stood against the revolution also stood against the Cuban people which in Castro”s eyes, was simply unacceptable.
He was critical of Soviet communism. In 1963, mocking the Soviet Communists, he said Isn”t it a paradox of history that the moment certain groups of clergy become revolutionary, certain Marxist groups become a pseudo-revolutionary church? I hope I will not be excommunicated or brought before the Holy Inquisition for these words. There is nothing more anti-Marxist than dogma and rigid thinking. In the world of revolutionary ideas no one has the right to usurp a monopoly. Critical of Joseph Stalin, whom he accused of repression, abuse of power, the cult of the individual, and his personal character traits. In his view, Stalin was responsible for the German invasion of the USSR in 1941. In his opinion, the only positive aspect of his rule was the industrialization of the country and the transfer of the arms industry to Siberia, as well as his “decisive” actions in the defeat of Nazism.
Fidel Castro”s religious beliefs have been the subject of much debate. He was baptized and raised Catholic, by his own admission he was an atheist. He criticized the use of the Bible to justify the oppression of women and Africans. He stated that Christianity exhibited “a group of very humane commandments” that gave the world “ethical values” and “a sense of social justice.” He acknowledged that “if people call me a Christian, not from the point of view of religion, but from the point of view of social vision, I declare that I am a Christian.” He compared religion itself to communism; in his view, one can compare the persecution for religious beliefs, which were also essentially the political ideas of the slaves and oppressed in Rome, with the systematic and brutal persecution suffered in modern times by the bearers of the political ideas of the workers and peasants, namely the communists.
Critical of anti-Semitism. Criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his policies toward Israel. As he recalled appealing to Iranians when I was a child, every year during Holy Week between Thursday and Saturday God died. It was said: “The Jews killed Jesus.” They blamed it on the Jews! (…) And so it went on for 2,000 years. I don”t think anyone has been more slandered than the Jews. Much more than the Muslims. Jews were slandered and blamed for everything. And Muslims are historically not accused of anything. The Iranian government must understand that the Jews were driven from their land, persecuted, carried away and threatened all over the world because they were accused of killing God.(….) They survived as a people because of their culture and religion. Their fate was much harder than ours. Nothing can be compared to the Holocaust. The Iranian government would serve peace better if it acknowledged this unique history of anti-Semitism and understood why Israelis are so afraid for their survival. Fidel Ahmadinejad for the Holocaust denial that he believes took place and reaffirmed the right of the state of Israel to exist.
In 1946, he was an extra on the set of the film Holiday in Mexico. In 2007, Fidel Castro appeared in commercials for Cuban cigars and Tropical beer. El Comandante has twice met and spoken with Pope John Paul II. They first had a long conversation at the Vatican in 1996 and then during the Pope”s historic trip to Cuba – in January 1998. In March 2012. Fidel Castro met with Pope Benedict XVI during his pilgrimage to Cuba. In September 2015. Fidel Castro, meanwhile, met with Pope Francis, who was on pilgrimage to Cuba.
Supporters of Fidel Castro indicated that popular support was still high. They claimed that political repression was not very harsh. They credited him with liberating Cuba from the Batista dictatorship and claimed that between 1959 and 1991 there was a significant improvement in the living conditions of Cubans. They blamed economic difficulties on U.S. sanctions and the loss of aid from former Eastern Bloc countries. They also pointed to the continuous financing of the Cuban opposition from Western centers and North American governmental expatriates, also documented by sources unrelated to Cuba. Historian and journalist Richard Gott, described Castro as: one of the most extraordinary political figures of the 20th century” and noted that in the developing world he became “a Garibaldi-like hero” and a symbol of the anti-imperialist effort. Bourne described Castro as an “influential world leader” who enjoys “great respect” from people associated with all political ideologies throughout the developing world. The former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Wayne S. Smith, noted in the early 2000s that Castro was met with “warm ovations” throughout the Western Hemisphere. This was due to his opposition to American political domination and his transformation of Cuba from a banana republic to a country with significant international influence.
He received various awards and honors from foreign governments and was cited as a source of inspiration by leaders such as Ahmed Ben Bella and Nelson Mandela (who later awarded him South Africa”s highest civilian honor for foreigners, the Order of Good Hope). In 1972, the communist authorities awarded him the dignity of Honorary Miner of the People”s Republic of Poland.
In Namibia”s capital, Windhoek, a street has been renamed “Fidel Castro Street,” and identical street names can be found in several South African cities, Guinea, Angola, Mozambique, and Tanzania. No institution, building or street in Cuba is currently named after him, nor is there any monument to the leader. This is due to Castro”s personal opposition to such actions.
He was harshly criticized by governments and human rights organizations in the Western world and widely despised by the U.S. government. His critics referred to him as a dictator. According to opponents, Castro”s rule caused thousands of deaths. Their exact number, however, is unknown. According to the Cuba Archive, it has so far been possible to determine the number of 9240 victims known by name whose circumstances of death have been confirmed by at least two independent sources. Amnesty International points to the incarceration of people solely because of their political views. In 2003, Amnesty International recognized 71 people as prisoners of conscience. Reports from this organization also indicate mistreatment of prisoners and even torture.