He was born in 1926 in the province of Holguin on the island of Cuba. He spent his early years in the countryside and showed unusual intelligence, so his parents sent him to school in the cities of Santiago and Havana. At age 19, he entered the University of Havana Law School and he completed his studies five years later, having distinguished himself as a student leader. In 1952, he was a candidate for representative in the Havana government for the Orthodox Party, but the coup led by Fulgencio Batista —and backed by the United States — annulled the elections. This experience convinced him of the need for more radical methods to change the political and social situation in his country.
On July 26, 1953, Fidel led a group of young men in an attack on the Moncada barracks, for which he was tried and sentenced to 15 years in jail. After 22 months, he was freed, thanks to an amnesty. He went into exile in Mexico, where over the course of several months he organized the July 26 Revolutionary Movement to continue the fight against the dictatorship. In December of 1956, he led a failed invasion on the boat Granma, in which Fidel and the others arrived in Cuba and escaped to the Sierra Maestra Mountains. There, with the support of rural residents, the small group of revolutionaries launched the war that finally toppled the Batista regime in January of 1959. With this military victory, Castro became the leader of the government as prime minister and commander in chief of the armed forces.
The strongly nationalist content of his revolutionary discourse against the economic power the United States had over Cuba led to an inevitable confrontation. The administration of President Eisenhower broke off relations and declared an embargo on trade with Cuba. The Kennedy administration continued the political hostility and even sponsored the failed invasion of Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs. From then on, the Marxist-Leninist nature of the revolution was clearly proclaimed and the Cuban regime’s foreign policy was aligned with the Soviet Union. The so-called Soviet bloc became the main buyer of Cuban sugar.
Under Castro’s leadership, the Cuban Revolution made important social advancements, particularly in terms of education and public health. His critics note, however, that the political and social costs have been enormous with the consolidation of a dictatorial regime with a disregard for individual freedoms and ideological pluralism. The planned economy had a brief period of success due to rationalizing investment and facilitating a better distribution of wealth. The trade embargo imposed by the United States, however, bogged down the Cuban economy, which was seriously threatened by the disappearance of the Soviet bloc. Nonetheless, Castro refused to implement reforms and vowed to carry on the “revolution.”
In the first decade of the new century, Castro’s health deteriorated and he withdrew from political functions. In 2011, he ended his leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba. Although he remains retired, he is still an active voice through Cuba’s official newspapers and magazines.
Author: Pablo Samuel Torres
Published: April 25, 2012.
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