Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro was a communist revolutionary during the Cold War. Castro was President of Cuba from 1976 until 2008, when bad health forced him to relinquish the role. His brother Raúl Castro succeeded him as President.

Fidel Castro was born 13 August 1926 in Biran, Cuba. Castro’s illegitimate father, Ángel Castro y Argiz, was a sugar-farmer. Fidel Castro studied law at Havana University, where he became deeply involved in politics. After qualifying as a lawyer in 1950, Castro spent his time giving legal representation to the poor in Havana.

In 1952, Fulgencio Batista took over control of the island and became a dictator with the support of the army. In 1952 Castro formed an armed resistance unit called ‘The Movement’. On 26 July 1953 the unit attacked the Moncada barracks, near Santiago del Cuba. Castro lost 60 supporters in this attack. Castro was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. In 1955, Batista released Castro under an amnesty and he went to live in Mexico. He and his brother Raúl became acquainted with Che Guevara. They plotted a violent revolution to overthrow Batista.

In December 1956, Castro attacked the Cuban Army in the east of the island. This attack was unsuccessful and the survivors fled inland to the relative safety of the Sierra Maestra. Here, Castro’s followers helped the peasants who lived in rural eastern Cuba. Castro won over the locals and his views began to spread outward from this eastern enclave. By 1958, Castro felt strong enough to launch a full-scale attack on Batista. It was so successful that on 8 January 1959, Castro entered Havana in triumph and the dictator was forced to flee the island. Castro was proclaimed the leader of the revolution one month later.

Poverty was rife in Cuba. Health and educational facilities for the poor were either extremely basic or non-existent. In a bid to finance the development of such facilities, Castro nationalised American-owned businesses on the island in 1960. Money from these businesses was siphoned into schools and hospitals. Unsurprisingly, America retaliated and placed a trade embargo on Cuba. This hit Cuba hard: America had been the primary purchaser of Cuban sugar. Cuba turned to the USSR for support and Nikita Khrushchev,  First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, seized the opportunity to become friends with one of America’s closest neighbours (Cuba lies just 90 miles from the coast of Florida).

Brigade 2506, a CIA sponsored group of Cuban exiles, launched the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. The invasion was a fiasco, but it did highlight Cuba’s vulnerability. The American president, J F Kennedy, told the world that he was forced to support the venture by Castro’s actions: the invasion was Castro’s fault. Castro was well aware that the island could not hold out against a sustained attack by America. He turned to the USSR for help.

The upshot of this was the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. The USSR based intermediate range nuclear missiles on the island. Castro argued that they were for defensive purposes and that Cuba was entitled to place anything it wanted on its sovereign soil. Kennedy saw things differently. To him, allowing the missiles on Cuba was a blatantly aggressive gesture. After a period of global tension when nuclear war seemed on the cards, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles. The American trade embargo, which encompassed travel restrictions, remained.

Casto was a major thorn in the side of the American government. Cuban Secret Police, charged with protecting Castro, claim that there have been 638 attempts on the Cuban leader’s life since he took office in 1959. Apparently, the CIA developed exploding cigars and a wet suit lined with poison to capitalise on Castro’s love of diving. According to one of Castro’s personal assistants, Castro ordered that his underwear be burned after each wear in case they were impregnated with poison whilst they were laundered. ‘Operation Good Times’ aimed to discredit Castro internationally by producing fake photos of the leader in compromising positions surrounded by luxury goods. The plot failed.

Castro had declared himself to be a ‘Marxist-Leninist’, but his definition of this changed as time passed. Throughout his presidency, Cuba’s economy withered under America’s trade embargo.

However, by 2000, the Cuban health and education systems had been comprehensively reformed so that everyone in Cuba had a right to free education and health care. Literacy has increased and Cuban hospitals provided a good health service.

In August 2006, Castro temporarily stood down following an operation for intestinal bleeding. His brother, Raúl, was appointed to lead the country while Fidel Castro recuperated. In 2008 he permanently stepped down as President and went into retirement; Raúl replaced him. The two brothers worked together from the start of Fidel’s campaign against Batista. It was Raúl who befriended Che Guevara and brought him into the revolutionary’s armed camp.

Alberto Bayo, a Cuban military leader, poet, and essayist, said of Raúl:

“We have in Raúl a colossus in the defence of revolutionary principles. Raúl is Fidel multiplied by two in energy, in inflexibility, in fibre. Raúl is tempered steel.”

See also: Nikita Khrushchev

MLA Citation/Reference

"Fidel Castro". 2023. Web.

Key facts

Name: Fidel Castro
Birth Date: 13 August 1926 (age 88), Birán, Cuba
Spouse(s): 1948-1955
  • Mirta Diaz-Balart
1980 onward
  • Dalia Soto del Valle
  • Fidel Ángel Castro Diaz-Balart
  • Alina Fernández-Revuelta
  • Alexis Castro-Soto
  • Alejandro Castro-Soto
  • Antonio Castro-Soto
  • Angel Castro-Soto
  • Alex Castro-Soto
  • Jorge Angel Castro Laborde
  • Francisca Pupo
Education: University of Havana
Known Political Affiliations: 1946-1952, Orthodox Party, 1953-1965