Fulgencio Batista

Summary

Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar (August 6, 1973) was a Cuban military officer and dictator. He was the constitutional president of Cuba from 1940 to 1944 and de facto dictator from 1952 to 1959, when he was overthrown during the Cuban Revolution.

Back in power, Batista abolished the 1940 Constitution and suspended political freedoms, including the right to strike, allied with the island”s wealthy landowners who owned the largest sugar cane plantations and presided over a stagnant economy that widened the gap between rich and poor Cubans. He allied himself with the island”s wealthy landowners who owned the largest sugar cane plantations and presided over a stagnant economy that widened the gap between rich and poor Cubans. Batista”s increasingly corrupt and repressive government began to systematically enrich itself by exploiting Cuba”s commercial interests and making lucrative deals with the U.S. mafia, which controlled Havana”s drug, prostitution and gambling businesses. In an attempt to quell the growing discontent of his people, which manifested itself on numerous occasions through strikes and student riots, Batista tightened censorship of the media and stepped up repression of communists through indiscriminate violence, torture and executions that cost the lives of some 20,000 people. During the 1950s, the Batista regime received financial, logistical and military support from the United States, under the administrations of Harry S. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

For two years, from 1956 to 1958, the 26th of July Movement of nationalist and democratic ideology, headed by Fidel Castro, led the resistance against Batista”s repression through a war of urban and rural guerrillas that culminated in the definitive defeat of the dictatorial regime at the hands of the rebels led by the Argentine Ernesto ””Che”” Guevara in the battle of Santa Clara, fought on New Year”s Day 1959. Batista immediately fled the island with all the money he had amassed and settled in the Dominican Republic, ruled by his ally Rafael Trujillo. Finally, he found asylum in the Portugal of dictator Oliveira Salazar, although his death occurred on August 6, 1973 near the Spanish town of Marbella.

Son of Belisario Batista and Carmela Zaldívar, Cubans who fought for the independence of Cuba. Of very poor origins and economic condition, he began to work at a very early age, performing various trades in his youth. At the age of 20 he bought a ticket to Havana and joined the army in 1921 and, in 1923, he joined the rural guard, where he reached the rank of sergeant-tachographer of the Army General Staff.

After the overthrow of the government of General Gerardo Machado in 1933, a new government was formed under the presidency of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada, but discontent persisted in part of society. A group of military men, including Batista, and some democratic sectors signed a manifesto calling for the elaboration of a New Constituent Assembly to replace that of 1901 (in which, among other things, the Platt Amendment was reflected).

After the fall of Machado in 1933, he participated in several conspiracies that culminated in the Civic-Military Movement of September 4 of that year. A Government Junta was then established, the so-called Pentarquia (it consisted of 5 members, one of them Dr. Ramón Grau). The revolutionary Dr. Antonio Guiteras Holmes was also part of the Cabinet.

At the proposal of Sergio Carbó, Batista was appointed Colonel-Chief of the Army that same year. From 1934 to 1940 he led the repression against the communist and socialist movements in the sugar mills with an iron fist.

Since his mother named him Ruben and gave him her surname, Zaldivar, after Belisario Batista refused to register him under his own surname, in the records of the court of Banes he continued to be legally Ruben Zaldivar until 1939, when he was nominated for the presidential candidacy, it was discovered that Fulgencio Batista”s birth registration did not exist. Obtaining it cost him to postpone the presentation of his candidacy and fifteen thousand pesos to pay the judge.

In 1940, the Constituent Assembly was finally created, with the participation of politicians from different sectors, such as Carlos Prío Socarrás, Ramón Grau San Martín, Eduardo Chibás, or the communists Blas Roca Calderío and Juan Marinello Vidaurreta.

In 1944, Batista”s chosen successor, Carlos Saladrigas Zayas, had been defeated by Grau. Batista dedicated the first months of the new government to harming Grau”s administration, something that was noticed by the U.S. ambassador at the time, Spruille Braden, who wrote that Batista was causing problems for Grau, especially with regard to the country”s economy.

Fulgencio Batista increased the salary of the Armed Forces and the Police (from 67 pesos to 100 pesos and from 91 pesos to 150 pesos, respectively), granted himself an annual salary higher than that of the President of the United States (from US$26,400 to US$144,000 compared to Truman”s US$100,000), suspended Congress and handed over legislative power to the Council of Ministers, abolished the right to strike, reestablished the death penalty (prohibited by the 1940 Constitution) and suspended constitutional guarantees.

Arthur Meier Schlesinger, personal advisor to President Kennedy, recalled a stay in the Cuban capital and testified:

After World War II, Lucky Luciano was released on the condition that he return permanently to Sicily. Luciano secretly moved to Cuba, where he worked to regain control of the U.S. Mafia. Luciano also held several casinos in Havana with Batista”s blessing, although the U.S. government eventually succeeded in getting him deported.

On July 26, 1953, a little more than a year after Batista”s coup d”état, a small group of revolutionaries stormed the Moncada Barracks in Santiago. Government forces easily defeated the assailants and imprisoned their leaders, while many other participants fled the country. The main leader of the attack, Fidel Castro, was a young lawyer who would have been a candidate in the 1952 parliamentary elections had they not been cancelled by the coup. Following the assault on the Moncada Barracks, Batista suspended constitutional guarantees and from then until the end of his government the police were in charge of keeping the population frightened and repressed.

By the end of 1955, student revolts and anti-Batista demonstrations had become frequent, and unemployment became a real problem, as recent graduates of working age could not get steady employment. All these problems were dealt with by increased repression, where practically all young people were seen as suspected revolutionaries. Because of its constant opposition to the dictator and the great revolutionary activity taking place on campus, the University of Havana was temporarily closed on November 30, 1956, and would not reopen until after Batista”s overthrow. On March 13, 1957, student leader José Antonio Echeverría fell in combat with police on the side of the University of Havana in Havana after announcing that Batista had been killed in a failed attack on the Presidential Palace. In reality, Batista had fled during the attack, and the students of the Federation of University Students and the Revolutionary Directorate March 13, who led the attack, were killed by the military and police. Castro condemned the attack since he had not participated in the 26th of July Movement.

In November 1958, new elections were held, except in the provinces of Las Villas and Oriente, which by then were already under Castro”s control. The elections were scheduled for June, as required by the constitution, but were delayed due to guerrilla activities. As in 1954, Ramón Grau also withdrew his candidacy shortly before the elections, alleging fraud, which materialized when Batista ordered a recount after the elections. The winner was Andrés Rivero Agüero, a Batista-friendly candidate. However, even though he was the legitimate president of the republic, he was not allowed to take office.

Taking into account the loss of lives, the material damage to property and the evident harm being done to the economy of the Republic and praying God to enlighten the Cubans to be able to live in peace, I resign my powers as President of the Republic, handing it over to his constitutional substitute. I beg the people to remain in order and to avoid being thrown to be victims of passions that could be unfortunate for the Cuban family.

By the end of December 1958, the debacle of the Batista dictatorship appeared to be inevitable. The U.S. government had kept the dictator in power by providing him with planes, ships and state-of-the-art weapons such as napalm, but in March 1958 they announced that they would stop selling arms to the Cuban government. By the end of the year they even imposed an arms embargo, which marked the fate of the fragile dictatorial government. By December, the only people supporting Batista were the Cuban landowners and businessmen who had benefited economically from his dictatorship.

The following morning, the troops of the Second National Front of the Escambray commanded by Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo entered Havana. The following day, the troops of the “26th of July Movement” commanded by Camilo Cienfuegos and “Che” Guevara arrived, taking without resistance the regiment of Camp Columbia and the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress, respectively. Upon entering Camp Columbia, Cienfuegos excluded Colonel Barquín from command and detained General Cantillo. Shortly after, the troops of the Revolutionary Directory, under the command of Faure Chomón, occupied the Presidential Palace, which caused a crisis among the revolutionary forces. Simultaneously, on the same January 1, Fidel Castro arrived in Santiago de Cuba, declaring it the provisional capital of Cuba and proclaiming Magistrate Manuel Urrutia Lleó as president of the nation. For the time being, the United States government recognized the revolutionary government as legitimate, putting an end, both de jure and de facto, to the Batista dictatorship.

Batista fled the country with a fortune of more than US$2,000,000, going into exile first in the Dominican Republic, then on the island of Madeira (Portugal) and finally in Francisco Franco”s Spain, even though Batista had referred to the dictator as a “fascist” in December 1942. Batista remained in Spain until his death in 1973, due to a heart attack, in the town of Marbella. He is buried in the San Isidro cemetery in Madrid, next to his second wife, Marta Fernández Miranda de Batista and one of his five children, Carlos Manuel, who died of leukemia in 1969.

Sources

  1. Fulgencio Batista
  2. Fulgencio Batista
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