Fidel Castro Quick Fact:
Born: 13 August 1926, Birán, Cuba
Died: 25 November 2016 (aged 90), Havana, Cuba
Resting place: Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, Santiago de Cuba
Political party: Communist Party of Cuba (1965–2016)
Other political affiliations: Orthodox Party (1947–1952), 26th of July Movement (1955–1965)
Spouse(s): Mirta Diaz-Balart (m. 1948; div. 1955), Dalia Soto Del Valle (m. 1980)
Children: 11, including Alina Fernández, Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart
Parents: Ángel Castro y Argiz, Lina Ruz González
Alma mater: University of Havana
Biography of Fidel Castro:
One of the most prominent communist leaders of the last century, Fidel Castro, the Prime Minister, President and Commander-in-Chief of Cuba. The country a one-party socialist state because of him. Castro ruled Cuba for almost 6 decades. He started as a rebellion against right wing governments in the Dominican Republic and Colombia and in a matter of time became the leader of the communist revolution. Castro successfully overthrew Fulgencio Batista, the US-backed President of Cuba by adopting anti-imperialistic politics and led the Cuban Revolution. He developed strong relationship with the Soviet Union. U. S. A became irked by this and by economic blockade, assassination and counter-revolution tried to remove him but none of these had an impact on Castro and his rule remained strong. Including introduction of the central economic planning and expansion of the healthcare and education, Castro implemented various socialistic reforms. Castro also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and the Secretary General of the Non Aligned Movement.
Childhood & Early Life of Fidel Castro:
On August 13, 1926, Fidel Castro was born near Birán, in Cuba’s eastern Oriente Province. He was born to Angel Castro y Agrgiz and Lina Ruz Gonzalez. He was the illegitimate child of the couple and for the first 17 years of his life, he carries the surname Ruz. He was the third of the seven children of the couple. Castro was sent to live with his teacher in Santiago de Cuba at the age of six. He attended various schools as a child and finally he enrolled at the El Colegio de Belen in Havana. Castro was just an average student academically but he was interested in sports and excelled in the same. He played for the school’s baseball team.
Political Pursuits of Fidel Castro:
Castro enrolled himself at the law school in the University of Havana in 1945. Soon he became immersed in the political climate of Cuban nationalism, anti-imperialism and socialism. Castro joined the Party of the Cuban People in 1947, a socialist group headed by presidential candidate Chibas. In addition, in the Dominican Republic, Castro acquired the post of the president of the University Committee for Democracy. The committee decided to invade the Dominican Republic and overthrow its right-wing president, Rafael Trujillo, who was an ally of the US. General Juan Rodriguez led the rebellion and about 1200 men joined. They launched the invasion from Cuba. However, the US and Dominican forces squashed them quickly and luckily Castro escaped the mass arrest. Castro rose to prominence among the public with time and started to protest openly against the government wrongdoings.
Castro was exposed to the Marxism during the end of the 1940s and was greatly influenced by the same. In 1950, Castro graduated as a Doctor of Law and began his legal practice. Focusing on helping the poor Cubans assert their rights, he started a legal partnership with Jorge Azpiazu and Rafael Resende. However, poor finances let to the closure of the firm. Castro became an active member of the Cuban Peace Committee. At the same time, he developed an interest in the work of Karl Marx and became intent on running for a seat in the Cuban congress. However, General Fulgencio Batista’s return to power and the upcoming election was canceled, as he set himself up as a dictator.
Castro became baffled by this and made plans to oust the government. On July 26, 1953, with an attempt to overthrow Batista, he attacked the Moncada military barracks along with 150 supporters. However, the attack failed and Castro was captured, tried, convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Meanwhile, Batista held the presidential election in 1954 but won, as there were no opponents. On May 15, 1955, Castro was released and moved to Mexico. There, he formulated a plan to overthrow the Batista government along with Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Soon, Guevara became an ally and confidante of Castro and they devised a new strategy that was called guerrilla warfare. Castro’s force attacked the government forces in the Following year, but their attempt failed like earlier. Along with Guevara and Raul (his brother), Castro fled to the southeastern coast. Castro was also able to organize a parallel government, carry out some agrarian reform and control provinces with agricultural and manufacturing production.
Castro’s steadily growing forces waged a guerrilla war against the Batista government, organizing resistance groups in cities and small towns across Cuba. Castro launched military campaigns throughout the key areas of Cuba along with his group in 1958. Because of this, the government collapse and Batista fled to Dominican Republic. Jose Miro Cardona became the Prime Minister of Cuba and Castro became the commander-in-chief of the military. However, Miro’s sudden resignation made Castro the Prime Minister of Cuba on February 16, 1959.
With a condition, Castro accepted the position of the Prime Minister of Cuba that the powers of the Prime Minister should be increased. Castro launched various reforms in his initial days as the Prime Minister that resulted in nationalization of factories and plantations, to end the US economic domination. He became famous among lower class people but received opposition from the middle class that ultimately resulted into their mass-migration to the US, causing economic brain drain in Cuba. Castro repeatedly denied being a communist during this time but his policies closely resembled a Soviet-style control of both the economy and government to many Americans. He was widely criticized for his reformative policies that led to the formation of anti-Castro groups, which was duly suppressed by Castro. Castro’s government also began to establish relations with the Soviet Union and it agreed to organize Cuba’s defense committee. Cuba signed a trade agreement to buy oil from the Soviet Union in February 1960. Castro expropriated U.S.-owned refineries in Cuba when they refused to process the oil. Striking back, US cut short Cuba’s import of sugar. Thus beginning of decades-long contentious relationship between the two countries.
In 1961, Castro’s relationship with the United States came to all-time low. Outgoing US President Dwight Eisenhower broke off all diplomatic relations with the Cuban government. On April 14, Castro declared Cuba a socialist state. Thousands of exiles invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in an attempt to overthrow the Castro regime in April 1961. The military was able to restrict the insurgents. Hundreds of the insurgents killed and more than 1,000 captured. In turn, Castro was able to capitalize on the incident to consolidate his power. He announced an end to democratic elections in Cuba and denounced American imperialism on May 1. At the end of the year, Castro declared himself a Marxist-Leninist and announced that Cuba would follow the communist way. The Soviet Union affirmed its base by giving Cuba economic and military aid while US imposed economic ban on Cuba.
The increasing reliance on Soviet support reached a new level. Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet Premier, to avert US invasion, conceived the idea of placing nuclear missiles in Cuba. US asked Khrushchev to remove the missiles after discover the plan. He agreed in exchange for the United States’ public agreement not to invade Cuba and US removal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Castro formed the Cuba Communist party in 1965. He became the leading spokesperson of the Third World countries slowly. Cuba became a member of the OAM (Organization of American States).
Presidency & Retirement of Fidel Castro:
Until 1982, Castro also remained the President of the Non-Aligned Movement along with Cuban Presidency. The literacy rate of Cuba increased to 98% under his rule. Anyone who stood against Castro was removed through either imprisonment or execution and sometimes forced emigration. In the 1980s, Castro opened the port of Mariel to allow Cubans who wished to move to the U. S. However, US initially agreed for 3500 refugees. Castro loaded the ships with Cuban prison inmates and mentally ill people and almost 120, 000 Cubans left their homeland in seeking shelter in the US. In 1999, the economy of Cuba hit all-time low when favorable trade from the Soviet Union crashed.
The economy dipped over 40% in two years, major food shortages, widespread malnutrition and lack of basic goods. Castro realized the need for reforms. He announced a number of changes at the Fourth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party meeting. The main change was his stepping down as the head of the government. However, he retained his position as the head of the Communist Party and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The emigration restrictions were relaxed, apart from sugar industry; biotechnology and tourism were also selected to provide a boost to the economy. In 1998, he also organized a visit by Pope John Paul II to Cuba. This move not only strengthened the position of Church but also Castro’s government in Cuba.
Castro developed economic ties with Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela that solidified Cuba’s economy. Castro transferred all his powers to Raul, his brother on July 31, 2006, because of his failing health. His health recovered with time and he took part in the important issues of the government. Castro gave up his positions two years later. On February 24, 2008, his retirement was announced. After retirement, Castro began writing a column about his experiences and opinions, called “Reflections of Fidel” and in 2007, his autobiography “My Life” was published.
Personal Life & Legacy of Fidel Castro:
In 1948, Castro married to Mirta Diaz Balart who came from a wealthy Cuban family. In 1949, he couple was blessed with a son, Fidelito. However, the marriage did not last long. In 1955, Castro broke ties with Balart because of her working for Batista. After divorce, Castro had sexual affairs with two female supporters – Naty Revuelta and Maria Laborde. Castro suffered from various health issues since 1990s. In 2006, his health worsened when he was reported to be suffering from gastrointestinal bleeding. On 26 November 2016, he died, at the age of 90.