President of the Republic of Cuba
Fidel Castro Ruz (born August 13, 1926) has ruled Cuba since 1959, when, leading the 26th of July Movement, he overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista, and transformed Cuba into the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere.
Castro first attracted attention in Cuban political life through his student activism; his outspoken nationalism and radical critique of Batista and US corporate and political influence in Cuba brought a receptive following, criticism, and attention from the authorities. Later, his attacks on the Moncada Barracks, subsequent exile, and eventual guerrilla invasion of Cuba in December 1956 cemented his fame and notoriety worldwide. Since his ascension to power in 1959, Castro has become only more controversial and high-profile, inciting much condemnation, adulation, and debate.
Internationally, his leadership has been marked by tensions with the United States and a close partnership with the Soviet Union.
Fidel Castro's Early life
Castro was born into a wealthy farming family in Birán, near Mayarí, Holguín Province (formerly Oriente Province). He enrolled at the University of Havana to study law. Here he joined the Union Insurreccional Revolucionaria (UIR, the Insurrectional Revolutionary Union) and became involved in political disputes that were often violent and sometimes murderous. In 1947 he joined the Partido Ortodoxo and its campaign to expose government corruption and demand reform.
In the summer of 1947, Castro, along with Rolando Masferrer, became part of the Caribbean Legion that attempted to travel to the Dominican Republic and overthrow its government. The attempt failed, however, when the Cuban police intervened. Because of this and his other activities, Castro became known through local radio and the Alerta newspaper.
In 1950 Castro graduated and began practising law in a small partnership, defending mostly poor people. He had by now become known for his nationalist views and his opposition to the United States' influence in Cuba. In 1951, after the Partido Ortodoxo's founder Eduardo Chibás committed suicide, Castro claimed leadership of the party and prepared to stand for parliament the following year. However, a coup d'état led by Batista on March 10, 1952 overthrew Socarrás' government and the elections were cancelled. Castro broke away from the Partido Ortodoxo and, in court, charged Batista with violating the Cuban constitution. His petition was refused.
Attack on Moncada Barracks
Castro responded to Batista's coup by organizing an armed attack on the Moncada Barracks, Batista's largest garrison outside Havana, on July 26, 1953. The Céspedes garrison in Bayamo was also attacked." The attack proved unsuccessful and more than sixty of the one-hundred and thirty-five militants involved were killed.
Castro and other surviving members of his group managed to escape to the Sierra Maestra. On August 1, after gaining assurances via the Archbishop of Santiago, Enrique Pérez Serrantes, that they would not be killed or tortured and would receive a fair trial, Castro and his group surrendered. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Having served less than two years, he was released in May 1955 thanks to a general amnesty from a confident Batista. He went into exile in Mexico on July 7.
Life as a guerilla
Once in Mexico, Castro reunited with other exiles and founded the 26th of July Movement. They went to the United States, where they gathered funds from Cubans living in that country. On November 26, 1956 they returned to Cuba. On November 30th, another group of Castro's supporters, wearing olive green uniforms and the 26th of July Movement's red & black insignias, staged a street revolt in Santiago, organized by Frank Pais. Only between twelve and sixteen of the original eighty-two men of the Granma group survived encounters with the Cuban army. The survivors, who included Che Guevara, Raúl Castro, and Camilo Cienfuegos, reformed into the José Martí column under Castro's command. Castro's movement gained popular support and grew to over eight hundred men.
Early years in power
On January 1, 1959, Castro's forces entered Havana and on January 5 the liberal law professor José Miró Cardona created a new government with himself as prime minister and Manuel Urrutia Lleó as president. On January 8 Castro himself arrived in Havana and assumed the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. In February, however, Miró resigned and Castro assumed his role; and in July, Urrutia resigned and was replaced by Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, a lawyer more sympathetic to Castro's ideology.
Initially the United States was quick to recognize the new government. On April 15 Castro went on a famous twelve day unofficial tour of the US, where he met Malcolm X, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru while staying in a cheap hotel in Harlem - an example of his tendency to 'mix with the people', as he later also did in Panamá, where he used the service entrance of the hotel more than the front door. He subsequently visited the White House and met with Vice President Richard Nixon. Castro's economic policies had caused some concerns in Washington that Castro was a Communist with an allegiance to the Soviet Union.
Friction with the US soon developed when the new government began expropriating property owned by major US corporations, proposing compensation based on property tax valuations which, for many years, the same companies had managed to keep artificially low..
In February 1960 Cuba signed an agreement to buy oil from the USSR. When the US-owned refineries in Cuba refused to process the oil, they were expropriated, and the United States broke off diplomatic relations with the Castro government soon afterwards. To the concern of the Eisenhower administration, Cuba began to establish closer ties with the Soviet Union. A variety of pacts were signed between Castro and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, allowing Cuba to receive large amounts of economic and military aid from them.
Bay of Pigs
On April 15, 1961, the day after Castro described his revolution as socialist, four Cuban airfields were bombed by A-26s bearing false Cuban markings. These bombing runs were the beginning stages of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The United States staged an unsuccessful attack on Cuba on 17 April 1961. Assault Brigade 2506, a force of about 1,400 Cuban exiles, financed and trained by the Central Intelligence Agency, and commanded by CIA operatives Grayston Lynch and William Robertson, landed south of Havana, at Playa Girón on the Bay of Pigs.
The CIA assumed that the invasion would spark a popular uprising against Castro; the operation itself was expected by Castro, however, and in anticipation the government rounded up thousands of anti-Castro Cubans and imprisoned them, most under threat of death should the invasion succeed. Part of the invasion force that made it ashore was captured, while President Kennedy withdrew support for the invasion at the last minute, by cancelling several bombing sorties that could have crippled the entire Cuban airforce. The cancellation also prevented US Marines waiting off the coast from landing in support of the Cuban exiles. Two US supplied support ships, the Houston and the Río Escondido, were sunk by Cuban propeller-driven aircraft. Nine people were executed in connection with this action while Castro attributed the failure of the invasion to his leadership.
Relations with the outside world
Following initial US hostility, the establishment of diplomatic ties to the Soviet Union, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba became increasingly dependent on Soviet markets and military and economic aid. Castro was able to build a formidable military force with the help of Soviet equipment and military advisors.
On November 4, 1975, Castro ordered the deployment of Cuban troops to Angola in order to aid the Marxist MPLA-ruled government against the UNITA opposition forces, which gained the support of the government of South Africa. Moscow aided the Cuban initiative with the USSR engaging in a massive airlift of Cuban forces into Angola. On this, Nelson Mandela has remarked "Cuban internationalists have done so much for African independence, freedom, and justice." Cuban troops were also sent to Marxist Ethiopia to assist Ethiopian forces in the Ogaden War with Somalia in 1977.
In addition, Castro extended support to Marxist Revolutionary movements throughout Latin America, such as aiding the Sandinistas in overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship in 1979.
Criticisms of the United States
Castro remains a vocal critic of United States policies, speaking against the continuing economic embargo and US attempts to topple his government. He has also condemned what he sees as exploitation of developing countries by U.S. corporations and even the state of public health care in the United States.
Recently, he has harshly condemned U.S. travel sanctions, which severely limit travel between the United States and Cuba. Castro also opposes the growing costs of servicing foreign debt.
During the Cold War, the United States engaged in a variety of covert, and often deadly attacks in Cuba. Between 1960 and 1965, the U.S. government made plans to assassinate him:; Having the Havana broadcasting studio sprayed with a mind altering chemical, poisoning his cigars, dusting his boots with a chemical that would cause his beard to fall out, and planting an explosive seashell in the area where he was known to scuba dive. (Vail 108).
After John F. Kennedy's election in the United States, the President's close advisers set up their own covert structure to eliminate Castro. Launched in November 1961, it was code named Operation Mongoose.
In 2000, four Cuban exiles with ties to the Cuban-American National Foundation were convicted in a Panamanian court of plotting to assassinate Castro during a regional summit. The four were pardoned in 2004 and all but Luis Posada Carriles entered the United States. Posada appeared in the U.S in May 2005, but was arrested and faces extradition to Venezuela. All four men have been accused of working for the CIA at one time or another.
Since Fidel Castro came to power, he and his government have exhibited many traits of personalist rule commonly attributed to a cult of personality, despite attempts to discourage it. In contrast to many of the world's modern strongmen, Castro has only twice been personally featured on a Cuban stamp.
Large crowds of people gather to cheer at these fiery speeches. A BBC article focusing on the longevity of Castro's rule concludes that, "[for many Cubans], everything about Castro is Cuban and everything Cuban is Castro." This style of leadership has led to a common characterization of Castro as being a subject of a personality cult, especially by critics.