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Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro was born August 13, 1926 in Mayari, Cuba. He was raised by Angel Castro y Argiz, his father and his mother, Lina Ruz Gonzalez, who was the second wife of his father. Castro was one of seven children, and the oldest of Gonzalez’s five children. Castro went to a Catholic high school in Santiago de Cuba before he went on to study law at the University of Havana. It was here that he began to become active in radical politics. Castro participated in a number of urban riots during his time in college, including the April riot in 1948. After his graduation from the University of Havana, Fidel Castro practiced law, specializing in public law. Castro often represented his poor or under-privileged clients without taking payment. In 1956, Castro was chosen to be the candidate for the congressional house for the Reformist Cuban People’s Party, the Orthodoxos. However, at this point in time, Fulgencio Batista took control of the Cuban government, canceling the elections. After many failed attempts to topple Batista legally, Castro was forced to find other means to achieve his objective.

Therefore, in 1953, he led an attack on Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba. As a military offensive, it was a failure with the majority of the 160 men in the attack being killed. The survivors were jailed, including Castro and his brother Raul. However, politically, the assault was a success because of Fidel Castro’s four hour speech stating “History will Absolve Me.” Although the brothers were supposed to serve fifteen years in prison, they received amnesty and left the country for Mexico in 1955. During his time in Mexico, Castro met Che Guevara, a citizen revolutionary from Argentina. Together they formed the 26th of July Movement with Raul and other loyal Cuban followers. Castro then led an impromptu invasion on the Oriente Province in southeast Cuba. Betrayed by one of his supporters, Castro’s attack failed with only twenty of his eighty men surviving. Castro escaped into the Sierra Maestra Mountains. From there, he led guerrilla forces and radically active peasants in a fight against Batista’s rapidly crumbling army. Castro achieved victory in Havana on January 1, 1959. Castro then came into power with the support of a majority of the people in that year. At first he was only the Commander and Chief of the armed forces. In July of 1959, he took complete political control of the island nation. Even though he promised mild reform and the reinstitution of the former constitution, Castro wanted to have radical reform. He nationalized the industry and commerce, and then proceeded to pass far-reaching land reforms. The relationship between the U.S government and the Cuban government became strained because of Castro’s nationalization of all agriculture and business, and therefore forcing U.S. agricultural and business estates out of Cuba. Castro also kept an anti-American rhetoric going throughout Cuba. He then proceeded to ally and trade with the Soviet Union, thus breeding more mistrust from the island’s democratic neighbor.

The U.S. attempted to overthrow Castro multiple times; however the most recognized is the Bay of Pigs. As a result, high anti-American sentiment spread through out Cuba because of the American efforts. During his alliance with the Soviet Union, Castro traded weapons with his ally. This led to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when Cuba allowed the USSR to place ballistic missiles on the island nation, missiles that could send nuclear warheads to American cities. As part of the deal to get the nuclear weapons of the island, the U.S. agreed to stop trying to overthrow Fidel Castro. Also at this time, Castro created a one party government with power over all the political, economic, and social aspects of the island nation’s life. Cuba’s economy, however, failed to grow beyond its dependency on sugar cane and ultimately the island depended on favorable trade with the Soviets in order to maintain the standard of living to which they had grown accustomed. Therefore, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Castro was caught off guard and had to counter the loss of economic assistance by allowing more economic freedoms. However, Castro was never comfortable with these changes. Within the last decade, Castro has gone through a number of mishaps including fainting during a speech and breaking his kneecap and arm. He has recently undergone an extensive surgery on his intestines. He passed his power over to his brother, Raul, in July of 2006, because of his weakened state. This was meant to only be temporary. However in February 2008, Castro formally announced by letter that he would not accept the nomination to be the leader of the nation.

Researched By Christina Vernon
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby high School

Sources:

“Fidel Castro.” World History: The Modern Era. 2008. ABC-CLIO. 1 May 2008 .

“Castro, Fidel.” Encyclop?dia Britannica. 2008. Encyclop?dia Britannica Online School Edition. 7 May 2008 .

Phillips, R. Hart. “Castro, Fidel.” Encyclopedia Americana. 2008. Grolier Online. 7 May 2008 .

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