What to know

Who Was Fidel Castro?

Late Cuban President Fidel Castro

To some he was a revolutionary, to others a dictator. He was the President of Cuba for a while, but Fidel Castro will forever be a legend.

The story of Fidel Castro starts on a farm on August 13, 1926. He was was born out of wedlock to Spanish migrants, Ángel Castro y Argiz and Lina Ruz Gonzalez. His father had become successful and wealthy growing sugar cane at Las Manacas farm in Birán, Oriente Province, and was able to send Fidel off to live with his teacher in Santiago de Cuba at the age of six.

19-year-old Fidel began his university education in 1945, studying law at the University of Havana. There, he became involved in student activism and started stirring up problems. It was lso there that he became passionate about anti-imperialism and opposing U.S. intervention in the Caribbean, and unsuccessfully campaigned for the presidency of the Federation of University Students on a platform of “honesty, decency and justice”.

Castro became a critic of Ramón Grau’s presidency, and started speaking up about corruption and violence within his government. One of his speeches in November 1946 became highly publicized and got front page coverage of many newspapers in Cuba.

He joined the Party of the Cuban People (also known as the Orthodox Party) in 1947, advocating for social justice, political freedom and government transparency. As politics became violent in Cuban universities, Grau had student gangs on his payroll as police officers, and they weren’t very happy with Castro. He was forced to carry a gun after receiving death threats urging him to leave to university.

Upon returning to Cuba after a failed armed overthrow of right-wing dictator Rafael Trujillo, a US ally, in June 1947, his activism became more slanted to leftist rhetoric, condemning social and economic inequality practiced by the government.

A year later, he helped the leftist Liberals in Bogotá, Colombia, to combat government sympathizers after the assassination of popular leftist leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Ayala hd led to widespread rioting and clashes between them. Even though it is claimed that he supplied them with weapons he stole from a police station, police investigations concluded that he was not involved in any killings.

After returning to Cuba, he became an active member of the September 30 Movement, which consisted of both communists and members of the Partido Ortodoxo.

He finished his doctorate of law in September 1950, and almost directly after opened a legal partnership for the the poor. But without making any real money, the practice went bankrupt and the furniture ended up being repossessed.

Castro’s first attempt at a political career came in 1952. He wanted to run for Congress that summer, but senior Ortodoxo members feared radical reputation and nominated him as a candidate for the House of Representatives by party members in Havana’s poorest districts. During the campaign, he met General Fulgencio Batista, the former president who had returned to politics with the Unitary Action Party, they both agreed that Prío should go, but nothing more beyond that. And when Batista declared himself president after a military coup in March 1952, Fidel Castro, like many others, saw him as the dictator he was. With corruption rising within Batista’s Cuba, Castro started looking into other ways to overthrow the government.

That was when he decided to form what he called “The Movement”. The group operated along a clandestine cell system, publishing the underground newspaper El Acusador (The Accuser), and arming and training anti-Batista revolutionaries.

After years of failed political struggle, Castro and his brother Raul, along with Argentinian left-wing rebel, Ernesto Che Guevara, he became engaged in guerrilla warfare with Batista’s government between the years 1956 and 1959.

As Castro’s movement was gaining ground and popularity, the US feared his socialist values, and instructed General Eulogio Cantillo to oust Batista. The two had secretly agreed to a ceasefire, promising Castro that Batista would be tried as a war criminal. He never knew that Batista was warned, and had fled into exile with over US$300,000,000 in cash. On December 31, 1958, Cantillo entered Havana’s Presidential Palace, proclaimed the Supreme Court judge Carlos Piedra to be President, and began appointing the new government. Upon hearing the news, Castro became furious and ended the ceasefire.

He had loyalists within the army, whom he had ordered to arrest Cantillo. On January 1, 1959, the country saw widespread festivities and joy celebrating the downfall of Cantillo. He had politically moderate lawyer Manuel Urrutia Lleó appointed provisional president, with Fidel Castro appointed the Representative of the Rebel Armed Forces of the Presidency, and got an office in the penthouse of the Havana Hilton Hotel.

After leaving the country on official business, Castro returned to see that the government had left thousands unemployed by closing down casinos and brothels. His disappointment lead to the resignation of Prime Minister José Miró Cardona, who went into exile in the U.S. and joined the anti-Castro movement.

On February 16, 1959, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba, and their internal revolutionary struggle came closer to an end, but the threat from abroad began to rise.

After nearly 5 decades of governing Cuba, Fidel Castro passed away on November 26, 20016. His leadership transformed Cuba into a socialist republic with low social inequality and kept out several US invasion attempts. While the US government has disclosed of plans to overthrow him, some estimate that he evaded and survived over 600 assassination attempts. But at age 90, it was health that retired the legendary Cuban who never rested for one day.

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