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Fidel Castro

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Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro
Castro in front of a Havana statue of Cuban national hero José Martí in 2003
First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba
In office
June 24, 1961 – April 19, 2011
Deputy Raúl Castro
Preceded by Blas Roca Calderio
Succeeded by Raúl Castro
President of Cuba
In office
December 2, 1976 – February 24, 2008
Prime Minister Self
Deputy Raúl Castro
Preceded by Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado
Succeeded by Raúl Castro
President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba
In office
December 2, 1976 – February 24, 2008
President Self
Preceded by Self (as Prime Minister)
Succeeded by Raúl Castro
16th Prime Minister of Cuba
In office
February 16, 1959 – December 2, 1976
President Manuel Urrutia Lleó
Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado
Preceded by José Miró Cardona
Succeeded by Self (as President of Council of Ministers)
7th and 23rd Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement
In office
September 16, 2006 – February 24, 2008
Preceded by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Succeeded by Raúl Castro
In office
September 10, 1979 – March 6, 1983
Preceded by Junius Richard Jayawardene
Succeeded by Neelam Sanjiva Reddy
Personal details
Born Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz
(1926-08-13) August 13, 1926
Birán, Holguin Province, Cuba
Political party Communist Party of Cuba
Spouse(s) Mirta Diaz-Balart (1948–55)
Dalia Soto del Valle (1980–present)
Relations (siblings)
Raúl Castro Ruz
Emma Castro Ruz
Agustina Castro Ruz
Ramon Castro Ruz
Angela Castro Ruz
Juana Castro Ruz
Pedro Emilio Castro Argota
Manuel Castro Argota
Lidia Castro Argota
Antonia Maria Castro Argota
Georgina Castro Argota
Martin Castro
Children Fidel Ángel Castro Diaz-Balart
Alina Fernández-Revuelta
Alexis Castro-Soto
Alejandro Castro-Soto
Antonio Castro-Soto
Angel Castro-Soto
Alex Castro-Soto
Jorge Angel Castro Laborde
Francisca Pupo
Alma mater University of Havana
Profession Lawyer
Religion None (disputed)
*Presidential powers were transferred to Raúl Castro from July 31, 2006.

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (American Spanish: ; born August 13, 1926) is a Pink Tide – namely with Hugo Chávez's Venezuela – and joining the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas in 2006. Due to failing health, in 2006 he transferred his responsibilities to Vice-President Raúl Castro, who formally assumed the presidency in 2008. Castro is a controversial and divisive world figure, lauded by his supporters as a champion of socialism, anti-imperialism, humanitarianism, and environmentalism who has established Cuba's independence from American imperialism. Conversely, he is viewed by his critics as a dictator whose administration has overseen multiple human-rights abuses, an exodus of more than one million Cubans, and the impoverishment of the country's economy. Through his actions and his writings he has significantly influenced the politics of various individuals and groups across the world.


  • Early life 1
    • Youth: 1926–47 1.1
    • Rebellion and Marxism: 1947–50 1.2
    • Career in law and politics: 1950–52 1.3
  • Cuban Revolution 2
    • The Movement and the Moncada Barracks attack: 1952–53 2.1
    • Imprisonment and the 26th of July Movement: 1953–55 2.2
    • Guerrilla war: 1956–59 2.3
    • Provisional government: 1959 2.4
  • Premiership 3
    • Consolidating leadership: 1959–60 3.1
    • The Bay of Pigs Invasion and "Socialist Cuba": 1961–62 3.2
    • The Cuban Missile Crisis and furthering socialism: 1962–68 3.3
    • Economic stagnation and Third World politics: 1969–74 3.4
  • Presidency 4
    • Foreign wars and NAM Presidency: 1975–79 4.1
    • Reagan and Gorbachev: 1980–89 4.2
    • The Special Period: 1990–2000 4.3
    • The Pink Tide: 2000–06 4.4
    • Stepping down: 2006–08 4.5
  • Later years 5
    • Retirement: 2008–present 5.1
  • Personal and public life 6
    • Political ideology and religious beliefs 6.1
    • Family and friends 6.2
    • Public image 6.3
  • Reception and legacy 7
  • References 8
    • Footnotes 8.1
    • Bibliography 8.2
  • External links 9

Early life

Youth: 1926–47

Castro was born out of wedlock at his father's farm on August 13, 1926.[1] His father, Ángel Castro y Argiz, was a migrant to Cuba from Galicia, Northwest Spain.[2] He had become successful growing sugar cane at Las Manacas farm in Birán, Oriente Province,[3] and after the collapse of his first marriage, he took his household servant, Lina Ruz González, as his mistress and later second wife; together they had seven children, among them Fidel.[4] Aged 6, Castro was sent to live with his teacher in Santiago de Cuba,[5] before being baptized into the Roman Catholic Church aged 8.[6] Being baptized enabled Castro to attend the La Salle boarding school in Santiago, where he regularly misbehaved, and so was sent to the privately funded, Jesuit-run Dolores School in Santiago.[7] In 1945 he transferred to the more prestigious Jesuit-run El Colegio de Belén in Havana.[8] Although Castro took an interest in history, geography and debating at Belén, he did not excel academically, instead devoting much of his time to playing sport.[9]

In 1945, Castro began studying law at the University of Havana.[10] Admitting he was "politically illiterate", he became embroiled in student activism,[11] and the violent gangsterismo culture within the university.[12] Passionate about anti-imperialism and opposing U.S. intervention in the Caribbean,[13] he unsuccessfully campaigned for the presidency of the Federation of University Students (Federación Estudiantíl Universitaria - FEU) on a platform of "honesty, decency and justice".[14] Castro became critical of the corruption and violence of President Ramón Grau's government, delivering a public speech on the subject in November 1946 that earned him a place on the front page of several newspapers.[15]

In 1947, Castro joined the socialist Party of the Cuban People (Partido Ortodoxo), founded by veteran politician Eduardo Chibás. A charismatic figure, Chibás advocated social justice, honest government, and political freedom, while his party exposed corruption and demanded reform. Though Chibás lost the election, Castro remained committed to working on his behalf.[16] Student violence escalated after Grau employed gang leaders as police officers, and Castro soon received a death threat urging him to leave the university; refusing, he began carrying a gun and surrounding himself with armed friends.[17] In later years anti-Castro dissidents accused him of committing gang-related assassinations at the time, but these remain unproven.[18]

Rebellion and Marxism: 1947–50

I joined the people; I grabbed a rifle in a police station that collapsed when it was rushed by a crowd. I witnessed the spectacle of a totally spontaneous revolution... [T]hat experience led me to identify myself even more with the cause of the people. My still incipient Marxist ideas had nothing to do with our conduct – it was a spontaneous reaction on our part, as young people with Martí-an, anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist and pro-democratic ideas.

— Fidel Castro on the Bogotazo, 2009[19]

In June 1947, Castro learned of a planned expedition to invade the Dominican Republic and overthrow the right-wing military junta of Rafael Trujillo, a U.S. ally.[20] Being President of the University Committee for Democracy in the Dominican Republic, Castro joined the expedition.[21] The invasion force consisted of around 1,200 troops, mostly exiled Dominicans and Cubans, and they intended to sail from Cuba in July 1947. However, under U.S. pressure Grau's government stopped the invasion, although Castro evaded being arrested like many of his comrades.[22] Returning to Havana, Castro took a leading role in the student protests against the killing of a high school pupil by government bodyguards.[23] The protests, accompanied by a crackdown on those considered communists, led to violent clashes between activists and police in February 1948, in which Castro was badly beaten.[24] At this point his public speeches took on a distinctively leftist slant, condemning the social and economic inequalities of Cuba, something in contrast to his former public criticisms, which had centered around condemning corruption and U.S. imperialism.[24]

In April 1948 Castro traveled to Conservatives – backed by the army – and leftist Liberals. Castro joined the Liberal cause by stealing guns from a police station, but subsequent police investigations concluded that he had not been involved in any killings.[25] Returning to Cuba, Castro became a prominent figure in protests against government attempts to raise bus fares.[26] That year, he married Mirta Díaz Balart, a student from a wealthy family through whom he was exposed to the lifestyle of the Cuban elite. The relationship was a love match, disapproved of by both families, but Mirta's father gave them tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a three-month New York City honeymoon.[27]

Marxism taught me what society was. I was like a blindfolded man in a forest, who doesn't even know where north or south is. If you don't eventually come to truly understand the history of the class struggle, or at least have a clear idea that society is divided between the rich and the poor, and that some people subjugate and exploit other people, you're lost in a forest, not knowing anything.

— Fidel Castro on discovering Marxism, 2009[28]

That same year, Grau decided not to stand for re-election, which was instead won by his Partido Auténtico's new candidate, Carlos Prío Socarrás.[29] Prío faced widespread protests when members of the MSR, now allied to the police force, assassinated Justo Fuentes, a socialist friend of Castro's. In response, Prío agreed to quell the gangs, but found them too powerful to control.[30] Castro had moved further to the left, influenced by the Marxist writings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin. He came to interpret Cuba's problems as an integral part of capitalist society, or the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie", rather than the failings of corrupt politicians, and adopted the Marxist view that meaningful political change could only be brought about by proletariat revolution. Visiting Havana's poorest neighborhoods, he became active in the student anti-racist campaign.[31]

In September 1949, Mirta gave birth to a son, Fidelito, so the couple moved to a larger Havana flat.[32] Castro continued to put himself at risk, staying active in the city’s politics and joining the September 30 Movement, which contained within it both communists and members of the Partido Ortodoxo. The group’s purpose was to oppose the influence of the violent gangs within the university; despite his promises, Prío had failed to control the situation, instead offering many of their senior members jobs in government ministries.[33] Castro volunteered to deliver a speech for the Movement on November 13, exposing the government’s secret deals with the gangs and identifying key members. Attracting the attention of the national press, the speech angered the gangs, and Castro fled into hiding, first in the countryside and then in the U.S.[34] Returning to Havana several weeks later, Castro laid low and focused on his university studies, graduating as a Doctor of Law in September 1950.[35]

Career in law and politics: 1950–52

Castro intended to overthrow the presidency of General Fulgencio Batista (left, with U.S. Army Chief of staff Malin Craig).

Castro co-founded a legal partnership that primarily catered for poor Cubans, although it proved a financial failure.[36] Caring little for money or material goods, Castro failed to pay his bills; his furniture was repossessed and electricity cut off, distressing his wife.[37] He took part in a high-school protest in Cienfuegos in November 1950, fighting with police in protest at the Education Ministry's ban on student associations. Arrested and charged for violent conduct, the magistrate dismissed the charges.[38] His hopes for Cuba still centered around Chibás and the Partido Ortodoxo, and he was present with Chibás during his politically-motivated suicide in 1951.[39] Seeing himself as Chibás' heir, Castro wanted to run for Congress in the June 1952 elections, though senior Ortodoxo members feared his radical reputation and refused to nominate him. Instead he was nominated as a candidate for the House of Representatives by party members in Havana's poorest districts, and began campaigning.[40] The Ortodoxo had considerable support and was predicted to do well in the election.[41]

During his campaign, Castro met with General Fulgencio Batista, the former president who had returned to politics with the Unitary Action Party; although both opposing Prío's administration, their meeting never got beyond polite generalities.[42] In March 1952, Batista seized power in a military coup, with Prío fleeing to Mexico. Declaring himself president, Batista cancelled the planned presidential elections, describing his new system as "disciplined democracy": Castro, like many others, considered it a one-man dictatorship.[43] Batista moved to the right, solidifying ties with both the wealthy elite and the United States, severing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, suppressing trade unions and persecuting Cuban socialist groups.[44] Intent on opposing Batista, Castro brought several legal cases against the government, but these came to nothing, and Castro began thinking of alternate ways to oust the regime.[45]

Cuban Revolution

The Movement and the Moncada Barracks attack: 1952–53

In a few hours you will be victorious or defeated, but regardless of the outcome – listen well, friends – this Movement will triumph. If you win tomorrow, the aspirations of Martí will be fulfilled sooner. If we fail, our action will nevertheless set an example for the Cuban people, and from the people will arise fresh new men willing to die for Cuba. They will pick up our banner and move forward... The people will back us in Oriente and in the whole island. As in '68 and '92, here in Oriente we will give the first cry of Liberty or Death!

— Fidel Castro's speech to the Movement just before the Moncada Attack, 1953[46]

Castro formed a group called "The Movement" which operated along a clandestine cell system, publishing underground newspaper El Acusador (The Accuser), while arming and training anti-Batista recruits.[47] From July 1952 they went on a recruitment drive, gaining around 1,200 members in a year, the majority from Havana's poorer districts.[48] Although a revolutionary socialist, Castro avoided an alliance with the communist PSP, fearing it would frighten away political moderates, but kept in contact with PSP members like his brother Raúl.[49] Castro stockpiled weapons for a planned attack on the Moncada Barracks, a military garrison outside Santiago de Cuba, Oriente. Castro's militants intended to dress in army uniforms and arrive at the base on July 25, before seizing control and raiding the armory before reinforcements arrived.[50] Supplied with new weaponry, Castro intended to spark a revolution among Oriente's impoverished cane cutters and promote further uprisings.[51] Castro's plan emulated those of the 19th century Cuban independence fighters who had raided Spanish barracks; Castro saw himself as the heir to independence leader José Martí.[52]

Fidel Castro under arrest after the Moncada attack

Castro gathered 165 revolutionaries for the mission,[53] ordering his troops not to cause bloodshed unless they met armed resistance.[54] The attack took place on July 26, 1953, but ran into trouble; 3 of the 16 cars that had set out from Santiago failed to get there. Reaching the barracks, the alarm was raised, with most of the rebels pinned down by machine gun fire. 4 were killed before Castro ordered a retreat.[55] The rebels suffered 6 fatalities and 15 other casualties, whilst the army suffered 19 dead and 27 wounded.[56] Meanwhile, some rebels took over a civilian hospital; subsequently stormed by government soldiers, the rebels were rounded up, tortured and 22 were executed without trial.[57] Accompanied by 19 comrades, Castro set out for Gran Piedra in the rugged Sierra Maestra mountains several miles to the north, where they could establish a guerrilla base.[58] Responding to the attack, Batista's government proclaimed martial law, ordering a violent crackdown on dissent, and imposing strict media censorship. Propaganda broadcast misinformation about the event, claiming that the rebels were communists who had killed hospital patients, although news and photographs of the army's use of torture and summary executions in Oriente soon spread, causing widespread public and some governmental disapproval.[59]

Over the following days, the rebels were rounded up; some were executed and others – including Castro – transported to a prison north of Santiago.[60] Believing Castro incapable of planning the attack alone, the government accused Ortodoxo and PSP politicians of involvement, putting 122 defendants on trial on September 21 at the Palace of Justice, Santiago.[61] Acting as his own defense counsel, Castro cited Martí as the intellectual author of the attack and convinced the 3 judges to overrule the army's decision to keep all defendants handcuffed in court, proceeding to argue that the charge with which they were accused – of "organizing an uprising of armed persons against the Constitutional Powers of the State" – was incorrect, for they had risen up against Batista, who had seized power in an unconstitutional manner.[62] The trial embarrassed the army by revealing that they had tortured suspects, after which they tried unsuccessfully to prevent Castro from testifying any further, claiming he was too ill.[63] The trial ended on October 5, with the acquittal of most defendants; 55 were sentenced to prison terms of between 7 months and 13 years. Castro was sentenced on October 16, during which he delivered a speech that would be printed under the title of History Will Absolve Me.[64] Castro was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in the hospital wing of the Model Prison (Presidio Modelo), a relatively comfortable and modern institution on the Isla de Pinos.[65]

Imprisonment and the 26th of July Movement: 1953–55

I would honestly love to revolutionize this country from one end to the other! I am sure this would bring happiness to the Cuban people. I would not be stopped by the hatred and ill will of a few thousand people, including some of my relatives, half the people I know, two-thirds of my fellow professionals, and four-fifths of my ex-schoolmates

— Fidel Castro, 1954.[66]

Imprisoned with 25 comrades, Castro renamed his group the "

Party political offices
New office First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba
Incapacitated in 2006

Succeeded by
Raúl Castro
Political offices
Preceded by
José Miró Cardona
Prime Minister of Cuba
Succeeded by
(as President of Council of Ministers)
Preceded by
Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado
as President of Cuba
President of the Council of State of Cuba
Incapacitated in 2006

Succeeded by
Raúl Castro
Preceded by
as Prime Minister
President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba
Incapacitated in 2006

Military offices
New office Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces
Incapacitated in 2006

Succeeded by
Raúl Castro
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Junius Richard Jayewardene
Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement
Succeeded by
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Preceded by
Neelam Sanjiva Reddy
Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement
Incapacitated in 2006

Succeeded by
Raúl Castro
  • Fidel Castro: From Rebel to El Presidente – timeline by NPR
  • Arthur Miller: A Visit With Castro by The Nation, December 24, 2003
  • BBC Video: Fidel Castro Visits Boyhood Home of Che Guevara
  • New York Times –- Interactive Feature: Three Days With Fidel
  • PBS American Experience Interactive site on Fidel Castro with a teacher's guide
  • Guide to the Cuban Revolution Collection, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library
  • Deena Stryker Photographs of Cuba, 1963–1964, Duke University Libraries Digital Collections
  • NPR Audio: Cuba's Castro an Inspiration, Not a Role Model by Tom Gjelten, September 15, 2006
  • The Guardian: "The Fidel I Think I Know" by Gabriel García Márquez, August 12, 2006
  • Washington Post: Fidel Castro Will Always Lead Cuba, Locals Say February 22, 2008
  • Castro's Legacy by Wayne S. Smith, US Interests Section in Havana Chief from 1979 to 1982
About Fidel Castro
  • Archive of Fidel Castro's speeches in 6 languages
  • Fidel Castro History Archive at Marxists Internet Archive.
  • Collection of Castro's speeches
  • "We Don't Hope for Favors from the Worst of Empires"
  • "Where Have All the Bees Gone?"
  • "In Spite of Everything: Reflections on the Pan-American Games"
  • ] Against Empire"sic"Time for an Alliance of Civlizations [
  • "The Palestinian Holocaust in Gaza"
  • Fidel Castro in His Own Words
By Fidel Castro

External links

Benjamin, Jules R. (1992). The United States and the Origins of the Cuban Revolution: An Empire of Liberty in an Age of National Liberation. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.  
Bohning, Don (2005). The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations Against Cuba, 1959–1965. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc.  
Castro, Fidel; Ramonet, Ignacio (interviewer) (2009). My Life: A Spoken Autobiography. New York: Scribner.  
Geyer, Georgie Anne (1991). Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro. New York City: Little, Brown and Company.  
Guerra, Lillian (2012). Visions of Power in Cuba: Revolution, Redemption, and Resistance, 1959–1971. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.  
Marcano, Christina; Barrera Tyszka, Alberto (2007). Hugo Chávez: The Definitive Biography of Venezuela's Controversial President. New York: Random House.  
Skierka, Volka (2006). Fidel Castro: A Biography. Cambridge: Polity.  
Von Tunzelmann, Alex (2011). Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean. New York City: Henry Holt and Company.  
Wickham-Crowley, Timothy P. (1990). Exploring Revolution: Essays on Latin American Insurgency and Revolutionary Theory. Armonk and London: M.E. Sharpe. 
Wilpert, Gregory (2007). Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chávez Government. London and New York: Verso.  


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  3. ^ Bourne 1986, pp. 14–15; Quirk 1993, p. 4; Coltman 2003, p. 3; Castro and Ramonet 2009, pp. 24–29.
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  28. ^ Castro and Ramonet 2009, p. 100.
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  30. ^ Coltman 2003, p. 49.
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  44. ^ Coltman 2003, p. 64; Von Tunzelmann 2011, p. 44.
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  46. ^ Coltman 2003, p. 79.
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  48. ^ Bourne 1986, p. 69; Coltman 2003, p. 66; Castro and Ramonet 2009, p. 107.
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  50. ^ Coltman 2003, pp. 69–70, 73.
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  385. ^ Paul C. Sondrol (1991). "Totalitarian and Authoritarian Dictators: A Comparison of Fidel Castro and Alfredo Stroessner". Journal of Latin American Studies 23 (3): 599–620.  
  386. ^ Jay Mallin. Covering Castro: rise and decline of Cuba's communist dictator.  
  387. ^ Bourne 1986. p. 263.
  388. ^ a b Coltman 2003. p. 292.
  389. ^ "Cuba: Fidel Castro's Abusive Machinery Remains Intact".  
  390. ^ Coltman 2003. p. 247.



Castro has been heavily criticised by governments and human rights organisations in the Western world, and was widely despised throughout the U.S.[384] He has been widely described as a dictator,[385][386] with Bourne writing that while Castro was well-intentioned, power in Cuba was "completely invested" in him.[387] Bourne noted it very rare for "a country and a people" to have been so completely dominated by "the personality of one man",[239] and critics have highlighted that Castro wielded large amounts of unofficial influence aside from his official duties.[388] Castro publicly refuted the term "dictator", insisting that his regime had greater democratic involvement in policy making than Western liberal democracies and that he constitutionally held less power than most heads of state.[388] Human rights advocacy groups have criticized Castro's administration for committing human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch stated that his government constructed a "repressive machinery" which deprived Cubans of their "basic rights".[389] Castro has defended his government's record on human rights, stating that the state must limit the freedoms of individuals in order to protect the rights of the collective populace, such as the right to employment, education, and health care.[390]

Historian and journalist Richard Gott considered Castro to be "one of the most extraordinary political figures of the twentieth century", noting that he had become a "world hero in the mould of Garibaldi" to people throughout the developing world for his anti-imperialist efforts.[378] Bourne described Castro as "an influential world leader" who commanded "great respect" from individuals of all political ideologies across the developing world.[377] Wayne S. Smith, former Chief of the US Interests Section in Havana, noted that in the early 21st century, Castro was met with "warm applause" throughout the Western Hemisphere due to his opposition to U.S. socio-political dominance and for transforming Cuba from a "banana republic" into a nation with significant international influence.[336] He has been awarded a wide variety of awards and honors from foreign governments, and has been cited as an inspiration for foreign leaders like like Ahmed Ben Bella,[379] and Nelson Mandela,[380] who subsequently awarded him South Africa's highest civilian award for foreigners, the Order of Good Hope.[381] In neighbouring Namibia, the country's capital city of Windhoek renamed one of its streets "Fidel Castro Street" after the Cuban revolutionary.[382][383]

Within Cuba, Fidel's domination of every aspect of the government and the society remains total. His personal needs for absolute control seems to have changed little over the years. He remains committed to a disciplined society in which he is still determined to remake the Cuban national character, creating work-orientated, socially concerned individuals... He wants to increase people's standard of living, the availability of material goods, and to import the latest technology. But the economic realities, despite rapid dramatic growth in the gross national product, severely limit what Cuba can buy on the world market.

Peter Bourne, Castro Biographer, 1986[377]

Reception and legacy

Throughout his administration, large throngs of supporters gathered to cheer at Castro's fiery speeches, which typically lasted for hours and which were delivered without the use of written notes.[375] Within Cuba, Castro is often nicknamed "El Caballo", meaning "The Horse", a label that was first attributed to Cuban entertainer Benny Moré, who on hearing Castro passing in the Havana night with his entourage, shouted out "Here comes the horse!" The name itself is an allusion to Castro's well known womanizing during the 1950s and early 1960s.[341][376] During this period, Castro himself was widely recognized as a sex symbol within Cuba, and a minor sensation was caused when footage was publicly broadcast showing that he had skinny legs, something widely considered an unattractive trait in Cuba.[365]

Unlike a number of other Soviet-era communist leaders, Castro's government did not intentionally construct a cult of personality around him, although his popularity among segments of the Cuban populace nevertheless led to one developing in the early years of his administration.[370][371] By 2006, the BBC reported that Castro's image could frequently be found in Cuban stores, classrooms, taxicabs, and on national television.[372] For 37 years, Castro publicly wore nothing but olive-green military fatigues, emphasizing his role as the perpetual revolutionary, but in a 1994 visit to the Ibero-American Conference in Cartagena, surprised assembled dignitaries by appearing in a guayabera. Several months later he appeared in Paris wearing a dark civilian suit.[373] This transition to business suits in later life has been attributed to the influence of his personal tailor, Merel Van 't Wout.[374]

Cuban propaganda poster proclaiming a quote from Castro: "Luchar contra lo imposible y vencer" ("Fight against the impossible and win")

Public image

While in power, Castro's two closest male friends were the former Mayor of Havana Pepin Naranjo and his own personal physician, René Vallejo.[365] From 1980 until his death in 1995, Naranjo headed Castro's team of advisers.[366] He also had a deep friendship with fellow revolutionary Celia Sanchez, who accompanied him almost everywhere during the 1960s, and controlled almost all access to the leader.[367] During the mid to late 1960s, Vallejo and Sanchez became his two closest companions.[368] Vallejo, who served as his personal physician since 1958,[368] died in 1969.[368] Sanchez died in 1982.[368] Castro was also a good friend of the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez.[369]

His sister Juanita Castro has been living in the United States since the early 1960s. When she went into exile, she said "I cannot longer remain indifferent to what is happening in my country. My brothers Fidel and Raúl have made it an enormous prison surrounded by water. The people are nailed to a cross of torment imposed by international Communism."[364]

Fidel has five other sons by his second wife, Dalia Soto del Valle: Antonio, Alejandro, Alexis, Alexander "Alex" and Ángel Castro Soto del Valle.[358] While Fidel was married to Mirta, he had an affair with Natalia "Naty" Revuelta Clews, born in Havana in 1925 and married to Orlando Fernández, resulting in a daughter named [361][362] Castro often engaged in one night stands with women.[363]

Many details of Castro's private life, particularly involving his family members, are scarce as the state media is forbidden to mention them.[355] Castro's biographer Robert E. Quirk noted that throughout his life, the Cuban leader had been "unable to form a lasting sexual relationship with any female."[356] By his first wife Mirta Díaz-Balart, whom he married on October 11, 1948, Castro has a son named Fidel Ángel "Fidelito" Castro Díaz-Balart, born on September 1, 1949. Díaz-Balart and Castro were divorced in 1955, and she remarried Emilio Núñez Blanco. After a spell in Madrid, Díaz-Balart reportedly returned to Havana to live with Fidelito and his family.[357] Fidelito grew up in Cuba; for a time, he ran Cuba's atomic-energy commission before being removed from the post by his father.[358]

Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos before playing a baseball match

Family and friends

Fidel Castro's religious beliefs have been a matter of some debate; he was baptized and raised a Roman Catholic but has commented that he is an atheist. He criticized use of the Bible to justify the oppression of women and Africans,[353] but commented that Christianity exhibited "a group of very humane precepts" which gave the world "ethical values" and a "sense of social justice", relating that "If people call me Christian, not from the standpoint of religion but from the standpoint of social vision, I declare that I am a Christian."[354]

Castro has proclaimed himself to be "a Socialist, a Marxist, and a Leninist".[348] Also a keen proponent of Cuban nationalism, historian Richard Gott remarked that one of the keys to Castro's success was in his ability to utilize the "twin themes of socialism and nationalism" and keep them "endlessly in play."[349] Castro describes Karl Marx and Cuban nationalist José Martí as his main political influences,[350] although Gott believed that ultimately Martí remained more important than Marx in Castro's politics.[349] Castro described Martí's political ideas as "a philosophy of independence and an exceptional humanistic philosophy".[351] Castro took a relatively socially conservative stance on many issues, opposing drug use, gambling, and prostitution, which he viewed as moral evils. Instead he advocated hard work, family values, integrity, and self-discipline.[352]

Political ideology and religious beliefs

A recent book by one of his former bodyguards, Juan Reinaldo Sánchez, reveals that, despite the appearance of austerity, Castro lives a live of luxury with several houses and yachts. The book also claims that Castro makes all the possible efforts to keep the Cuban people unaware of these luxuries. [347]

Castro was known for his busy working hours, often only going to bed at 3 or 4 a.m.[341] When meeting with foreign diplomats, he liked to meet them in these early hours, a time when they would be tired and he could gain the upper hand.[342] Having a "prodigious" memory, during speeches Castro liked to cite reports and books he had read, thereby presenting himself as an expert.[343] He described Ernest Hemingway as his favorite writer,[344] and enjoyed reading but was uninterested in music.[254] A sports fan, he also spent much of his time trying to keep fit, undertaking regular exercise.[254] He took a great interest in gastronomy, as well as wine and whisky, and as Cuban leader was known to wander into his kitchen to discuss cookery with his chefs.[254] Ever since childhood, Castro had a love of weapons, in particular guns,[345] and expressed his preference for life in the countryside over the city.[346]

Biographer Leycester Coltman described Castro as "fiercely hard-working, dedicated[,] loyal... generous and magnanimous" but noted that he could be "vindictive and unforgiving". He asserted that Castro "always had a keen sense of humor and could laugh at himself" but could equally be "a bad loser" who would act with "ferocious rage if he thought that he was being humiliated."[337] Biographer Peter Bourne noted that Castro "suffers fools poorly" and that in his younger years he was intolerant of those who did not share his views.[338] He claimed that Castro liked to meet with ordinary citizens, both in Cuba and abroad, but took a particularly paternal attitude toward Cubans, treating them as if "they were a part of his own giant family."[339] British historian Alex Von Tunzelmann commented that "though ruthless, [Castro] was a patriot, a man with a profound sense that it was his mission to save the Cuban people".[340]

Castro first and foremost is and always has been a committed egalitarian. He despises any system in which one class or group of people lives much better than another. He wanted a system that provided the basic needs to all—enough to eat, health care, adequate housing and education. The authoritarian nature of the Cuban Revolution stems largely from his commitment to that goal. Castro was convinced that he was right, and that his system was for the good of the people. Thus, anyone who stood against the revolution stood also against the Cuban people and that, in Castro's eyes, was simply unacceptable. There is, then, very little in the way of individual freedoms – especially freedom of expression and assembly. And there are political prisoners — those who have expressed positions against the revolution — though today only some 300, down markedly from the number at the outset of the revolution.

Wayne S. Smith, US Interests Section in Havana Chief from 1979 to 1982, in 2007[336]

Personal and public life

On April 19, 2011, Castro resigned from the Communist Party central committee,[331] thus stepping down as party leader. Raúl Castro was selected as his successor.[332] Now without any official role in the country's government, he took on the role of an elder statesman. In March 2012, Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba for three days, during which time he briefly met with Castro despite the Pope's vocal opposition to Cuba's government.[323][333] Later that year it was revealed that along with Hugo Chávez, Castro had played a significant behind-the-scenes role in orchestrating peace talks between the Colombian government and the far left FARC guerrilla movement to end the conflict which had raged since 1964.[334] During the North Korea crisis of 2013, he urged both the North Korean and U.S. governments to show restraint. Calling the situation "incredible and absurd," he maintained that war would not benefit either side, and that it represented "one of the gravest risks of nuclear war" since the Cuban missile crisis.[335]

In July 2010, he made his first public appearance since falling ill, greeting science center workers and giving a television interview to Mesa Redonda in which he discussed U.S. tensions with Iran and North Korea.[326] On August 7, 2010, Castro gave his first speech to the National Assembly in four years, urging the U.S. not to take military actions against those nations and warning of a nuclear holocaust. When asked whether Castro may be re-entering government, culture minister Abel Prieto told the BBC, "I think that he has always been in Cuba's political life but he is not in the government...He has been very careful about that. His big battle is international affairs."[327][328][329][330]

In old age, Castro continues his involvement with politics and international affairs.

Following his retirement, Castro's health deteriorated; international press speculated that he had diverticulitis, but Cuba's government refused to corroborate this.[323] He continued to interact with the Cuban people, published an opinion column titled "Reflections" in Granma, used a Twitter account, and gave occasional public lectures.[323] In January 2009 Castro asked Cubans not to worry about his lack of recent news columns and failing health, and not to be disturbed by his future death.[324] He continued meeting foreign leaders and dignitaries, and that month photographs were released of Castro's meeting with Argentine president Cristina Fernández.[325]

Retirement: 2008–present

Later years

In a letter dated February 18, 2008, Castro announced that he would not accept the positions of President of the Council of State and Commander in Chief at the February 24 National Assembly meetings,[317][318][319] stating that his health was a primary reason for his decision, remarking that "It would betray my conscience to take up a responsibility that requires mobility and total devotion, that I am not in a physical condition to offer".[320] On February 24, 2008, the National Assembly of People's Power unanimously voted Raúl as president.[321] Describing his brother as "not substitutable", Raúl proposed that Fidel continue to be consulted on matters of great importance, a motion unanimously approved by the 597 National Assembly members.[322]

Commenting on Castro's recovery, U.S. President [316]

[315] Afflicted with sustained intestinal bleeding, Castro underwent surgery, and on July 31, 2006, he

Poster advertising a Mass to pray for Castro's health that was posted on a wall in Bogotá, Colombia, in 2007.

Stepping down: 2006–08

Castro was known to be a friend of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and was an honorary pall bearer at Trudeau's funeral in October 2000. They had continued their friendship after Trudeau left office until his death. Canada became one of the first American allies openly to trade with Cuba. Cuba still has a good relationship with Canada. In 1998, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien arrived in Cuba to meet President Castro and highlight their close ties. He is the first Canadian government leader to visit the island since Pierre Trudeau was in Havana in 1976.[305]

At a summit meeting of sixteen Caribbean countries in 1998, Castro called for regional unity, saying that only strengthened cooperation between Caribbean countries would prevent their domination by rich nations in a global economy.[302] Caribbean nations have embraced Cuba's Fidel Castro while accusing the US of breaking trade promises. Castro, until recently a regional outcast, has been increasing grants and scholarships to the Caribbean countries, while US aid to those has dropped 25% over the past five years.[303] Cuba has opened four additional embassies in the Caribbean Community including: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Suriname, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. This development makes Cuba the only country to have embassies in all independent countries of the Caribbean Community.[304]

Castro amid cheering crowds supporting his presidency in 2005.

Castro's improving relations across Latin America were accompanied by continuing animosity towards the U.S. However, after massive damage caused by Hurricane Michelle in 2001, Castro successfully proposed a one-time cash purchase of food from the U.S. while declining its government's offer of humanitarian aid.[299][300] Castro expressed solidarity with the U.S. following the 2001 September 11 attacks, condemning Al Qaeda and offering Cuban airports for the emergency diversion of any U.S. planes. He recognized that the attacks would make U.S. foreign policy more aggressive, which he believed was counter-productive.[301]

Evo Morales of Bolivia has described him as "the grandfather of all Latin American revolutionaries".[297] In contrast to the improved relations between Cuba and a number of leftist Latin American states, in 2004 it broke off diplomatic ties with Panama after centrist President Mireya Moscoso pardoned four Cuban exiles accused of attempting to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro in 2000. Diplomatic ties were reinstalled in 2005 following the election of leftist President Martín Torrijos.[298]

Mired in economic problems, Cuba would be aided by the election of democratic socialist and anti-imperialist Hugo Chávez to the Venezuelan Presidency in 1999.[292] In 2000, Castro and Chávez signed an agreement through which Cuba would send 20,000 medics to Venezuela, in return receiving 53,000 barrels of oil per day at preferential rates; in 2004, this trade was stepped up, with Cuba sending 40,000 medics and Venezuela providing 90,000 barrels a day.[293][294] That same year, Castro initiated Mision Milagro, a joint medical project which aimed to provide free eye operations on 300,000 individuals from each nation.[295] The alliance boosted the Cuban economy, and in May 2005 Castro doubled the minimum wage for 1.6 million workers, raised pensions, and delivered new kitchen appliances to Cuba's poorest residents.[292] Some economic problems remained; in 2004, Castro shut down 118 factories, including steel plants, sugar mills and paper processors to compensate for the crisis of fuel shortages.[296]

Castro meeting with center-left Brazilian President Lula da Silva, a significant "Pink Tide" leader.

As I have said before, the ever more sophisticated weapons piling up in the arsenals of the wealthiest and the mightiest can kill the illiterate, the ill, the poor and the hungry but they cannot kill ignorance, illnesses, poverty or hunger.

— Fidel Castro's speech at the International Conference on Financing for Development, 2002[291]

The Pink Tide: 2000–06

In the early 1990s, Castro embraced environmentalism, campaigning against the waste of natural resources and global warming and accused the U.S. of being the world's primary polluter.[286] His government's environmentalist policies would prove highly effective; by 2006, Cuba was the only nation in the world which met the WWF's definition of sustainable development, with an ecological footprint of less than 1.8 hectares per capita and a Human Development Index of over 0.8 for 2007.[287] Similarly, Castro also became a proponent of the anti-globalisation movement. He criticized U.S. global hegemony and the control exerted by multinationals.[286] Castro also maintained his devout anti-apatheid beliefs, and at the July 26 celebrations in 1991, Castro was joined onstage by the South African political activist Nelson Mandela, recently released from prison. Mandela would praise Cuba's involvement in battling South Africa in Angola and thanked Castro personally.[288][289] He would later attend Mandela's inauguration as President of South Africa in 1994.[290] In 2001 he attended the Conference Against Racism in South Africa at which he lectured on the global spread of racial stereotypes through U.S. film.[286]

Castro's government decided to diversify its economy into Pope John Paul II, which took place in January 1998; ultimately, it strengthened the position of both the Church in Cuba, and Castro's government.[284][285]

Castro recognised the need for reform if Cuban socialism was to survive in a world now dominated by capitalist free markets. In October 1991, the Fourth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party was held in Santiago, at which a number of important changes to the government were announced. Castro would step down as head of government, to be replaced by the much younger Carlos Lage, although Castro would remain the head of the Communist Party and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Many older members of government were to be retired and replaced by their younger counterparts. A number of economic changes were proposed, and subsequently put to a national referendum. Free farmers' markets and small-scale private enterprises would be legalised in an attempt to stimulate economic growth, while U.S. dollars were also made legal tender. Certain restrictions on emigration were eased, allowing more discontented Cuban citizens to move to the United States. Further democratisation was to be brought in by having the National Assembly's members elected directly by the people, rather than through municipal and provincial assemblies. Castro welcomed debate between proponents and opponents of the reforms, although over time he began to increasingly sympathise with the opponent's positions, arguing that such reforms must be delayed.[277][278]

In 1991, Havana [275][276]

We do not have a smidgen of capitalism or neo-liberalism. We are facing a world completely ruled by neo-liberalism and capitalism. This does not mean that we are going to surrender. It means that we have to adopt to the reality of that world. That is what we are doing, with great equanimity, without giving up our ideals, our goals. I ask you to have trust in what the government and party are doing. They are defending, to the last atom, socialist ideas, principles and goals.

— Fidel Castro explaining the reforms of the Special Period[269]

With favourable trade from the Soviet bloc ended, Castro publicly declared that Cuba was entering a "Special Period in Time of Peace." Petrol rations were dramatically reduced, Chinese bicycles were imported to replace cars, and factories performing non-essential tasks were shut down. Oxen began to replace tractors, firewood began being used for cooking and electricity cuts were introduced that lasted 16 hours a day. Castro admitted that Cuba faced the worst situation short of open war, and that the country might have to resort to subsistence farming.[262][263] By 1992, the Cuban economy had declined by over 40% in under two years, with major food shortages, widespread malnutrition and a lack of basic goods.[236][264] Castro hoped for a restoration of Marxism-Leninism in the USSR, but refrained from backing the 1991 coup in that country.[265] When Gorbachev regained control, Cuba-Soviet relations deteriorated further and Soviet troops were withdrawn in September 1991.[266] In December, the Soviet Union was officially dismantled as Boris Yeltsin abolished the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and introducing a capitalist multiparty democracy. Yeltsin despised Castro and developed links with the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation.[265] Castro tried improving relations with the capitalist nations. He welcomed western politicians and investors to Cuba, befriended Manuel Fraga and took a particular interest in Margaret Thatcher's policies in the U.K., believing that Cuban socialism could learn from her emphasis on low taxation and personal initiative.[267] He ceased support for foreign militants, refrained from praising FARC on a 1994 visit to Colombia and called for a negotiated settlement between the Zapatistas and Mexican government in 1995. Publicly, he presented himself as a moderate on the world stage.[268]

The Special Period: 1990–2000

[261], Switzerland. Cuba asserted that this was a manifestation of U.S. hegemony, and refused to allow an investigative delegation to enter the country.Geneva in United Nations Human Rights Commission With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the U.S. secured a majority vote for a resolution condemning Cuba's human rights violations at the [260][258] in an election.National Opposition Union and the Sandinistas, were defeated by the U.S.-funded Daniel Ortega In February 1990, Castro's allies in Nicaragua, President [259][258]'s right-wing government in Panama – despite Castro's personal hatred of Noriega – but it was overthrown in a U.S. invasion in December 1989.Manuel Noriega Increasingly isolated, Cuba improved relations with [258][257] In Eastern Europe, socialist governments fell to capitalist reformers between 1989 and 1991 and many western observers expected the same in Cuba.[256][255] By November 1987, Castro began spending more time on the Angolan Civil War, in which the Marxists had fallen into retreat. Angolan President

Castro's image painted onto a now-destroyed lighthouse in Lobito, Angola, 1995.

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became Secretary-General of the Soviet Communist Party. A reformer, he implemented measures to increase freedom of the press (glasnost) and economic decentralisation (perestroika) in an attempt to strengthen socialism. Like many orthodox Marxist critics, Castro feared that the reforms would weaken the socialist state and allow capitalist elements to regain control.[247][248] Gorbachev conceded to U.S. demands to reduce support for Cuba,[247] with Soviet-Cuban relations deteriorating.[249] When Gorbachev visited Cuba in April 1989, he informed Castro that perestroika meant an end to subsidies for Cuba.[250][251] Ignoring calls for liberalisation in accordance with the Soviet example, Castro continued to clamp down on internal dissidents and in particular kept tabs on the military, the primary threat to the government. A number of senior military officers, including Ochoa and Tony de la Guardia, were investigated for corruption and complicity in cocaine smuggling, tried, and executed in 1989, despite calls for leniency.[252][253] On medical advice given him in October 1985, Castro gave up regularly smoking Cuban cigars, helping to set an example for the rest of the populace.[254] Castro became passionate in his denunciation of the Third World debt problem, arguing that the Third World would never escape the debt that First World banks and governments imposed upon it. In 1985, Havana hosted five international conferences on the world debt problem.[237]

Although despising Argentina's right wing military junta, Castro supported them in the 1982 Falklands War against Britain and offered military aid to the Argentinians.[243] Castro supported the leftist New Jewel Movement that seized power in Grenada in 1979, sent doctors, teachers, and technicians to aid the country's development, and befriended the Grenadine President Maurice Bishop. When Bishop was murdered in a Soviet-backed coup by hardline Marxist Bernard Coard in October 1983, Castro cautiously continued supporting Grenada's government. However, the U.S. used the coup as a basis for invading the island. Cuban soldiers died in the conflict, with Castro denouncing the invasion and comparing the U.S. to Nazi Germany.[244][245] Castro feared a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua and sent Ochoa to train the governing Sandinistas in guerrilla warfare, but received little support from the USSR.[246]

By the 1980s, Cuba's economy was again in trouble, following a decline in the market price of sugar and 1979's decimated harvest.[235][236] Desperate for money, Cuba's government secretly sold off paintings from national collections and illicitly traded for U.S. electronic goods through Panama.[237] Increasing numbers of Cubans fled to Florida, who were labelled "scum" by Castro.[238] In one incident, 10,000 Cubans stormed the Peruvian Embassy requesting asylum, and so the U.S. agreed that it would accept 3,500 refugees. Castro conceded that those who wanted to leave could do so from Mariel port. Hundreds of boats arrived from the U.S., leading to a mass exodus of 120,000; Castro's government took advantage of the situation by loading criminals and the mentally ill onto the boats destined for Florida.[239][240] In 1981, Ronald Reagan became U.S. President who then pursued a hard line anti-Castro approach,[241][242] and by the end of 1981, Castro was accusing the U.S. of biological warfare against Cuba.[242]

U.S. President Reagan and Soviet Premier Gorbachev were the two major players on the world stage in the 1980s, and would heavily affect Castro's governance of Cuba.

Reagan and Gorbachev: 1980–89

In 1979, the Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was held in Havana, where Castro was selected as NAM president, a position he held till 1982. In his capacity as both President of the NAM and of Cuba he appeared at the United Nations General Assembly in October 1979 and gave a speech on the disparity between the world's rich and poor. His speech was greeted with much applause from other world leaders,[222][231] though his standing in NAM was damaged by Cuba's abstinence from the U.N.'s General Assembly condemnation of the Soviet war in Afghanistan.[231] Cuba's relations across North America improved under Mexican President Luis Echeverría, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau,[232] and U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Carter continued criticizing Cuba's human rights abuses, but adopted a respectful approach which gained Castro's attention. Considering Carter well-meaning and sincere, Castro freed certain political prisoners and allowed some Cuban exiles to visit relatives on the island, hoping that in turn Carter would abolish the economic embargo and stop CIA support for militant dissidents.[233][234]

Fidel Castro speaking in Havana, 1978.

In 1977 the Ogaden War broke out as Somalia invaded Ethiopia; although a former ally of Somali President Siad Barre, Castro had warned him against such action, and Cuba sided with Mengistu Haile Mariam's Marxist government of Ethiopia. He sent troops under the command of General Arnaldo Ochoa to aid the overwhelmed Ethiopian army. After forcing back the Somalis, Mengistu then ordered the Ethiopians to suppress the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, a measure Castro refused to support.[222][227] Castro extended support to Latin American revolutionary movements, namely the Sandinista National Liberation Front in its overthrow of the Nicaraguan rightist government of Anastasio Somoza Debayle in July 1979.[228] Castro's critics accused the government of wasting Cuban lives in these military endeavors; the anti-Castro Carthage Foundation-funded Center for a Free Cuba has claimed that an estimated 14,000 Cubans were killed in foreign Cuban military actions.[229][230]

Castro considered Africa to be "the weakest link in the imperialist chain", in November 1975 he ordered 230 military advisors into Southern Africa to aid the Marxist MPLA in the Angolan Civil War. When the U.S. and South Africa stepped up their support of the opposition FLNA and UNITA, Castro ordered a further 18,000 troops to Angola, which played a major role in forcing a South African retreat.[223][224] Traveling to Angola, Castro celebrated with President Agostinho Neto, Guinea's Sékou Touré and Guinea-Bissaun President Luís Cabral, where they agreed to support the Mozambique's communist government against RENAMO in the Mozambique Civil War.[225] In February, Castro visited Algeria and Libya and spent ten days with Gadaffi before attending talks with the Marxist government of South Yemen. From there he proceeded to Somalia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Angola where he was greeted by crowds as a hero for Cuba's role in opposing apartheid South Africa.[226]

There is often talk of human rights, but it is also necessary to talk of the rights of humanity. Why should some people walk barefoot, so that others can travel in luxurious cars? Why should some live for thirty-five years, so that others can live for seventy years? Why should some be miserably poor, so that others can be hugely rich? I speak on behalf of the children in the world who do not have a piece of bread. I speak on the behalf of the sick who have no medicine, of those whose rights to life and human dignity have been denied.

— Fidel Castro's message to the UN General Assembly, 1979[222]

Foreign wars and NAM Presidency: 1975–79


Cuba's economy grew in 1974 as a result of high international sugar prices and new credits with Argentina, Canada, and parts of Western Europe.[219] A number of Latin American states called for Cuba's re-admittance into the Henry Kissinger's advice.[220] Cuba's government called the first National Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, thereby officially announcing Cuba's status as a socialist state. It adopted a new constitution based on the Soviet model, abolished the position of President and Prime Minister. Castro took the presidency of the newly created Council of State and Council of Ministers, making him both head of state and head of government.[221]

In 1971 he visited Chile, where Marxist President Salvador Allende had been elected as the head of a left-wing coalition. Castro supported Allende's socialist reforms, but warned him of right-wing elements in Chile's military. In 1973, the military led a coup d'état and established a military junta led by Augusto Pinochet.[213] Castro proceeded to Guinea to meet socialist President Sékou Touré, praising him as Africa's greatest leader.[214] He then went on a seven-week tour visiting leftist allies: Algeria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. On each trip, he was eager to visit factory and farm workers, publicly praising their governments; privately, he urged the regimes to aid revolutionary movements elsewhere, particularly those fighting the Vietnam War.[215] In September 1973, he returned to Algiers to attend the Fourth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Various NAM members were critical of Castro's attendance, claiming that Cuba was aligned to the Warsaw Pact and therefore should not be at the conference.[216] As the Yom Kippur War broke out in October 1973 between Israel and an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria, Cuba sent 4000 troops to defend Syrian territory from Israeli incursions.[217] In 1974, it broke off relations with Israel, citing its government's close relationship with the U.S. and its treatment of Palestinians during the Israel-Palestine conflict. This earned Castro respect throughout the Arab world, in particular from the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who became his friend and ally.[218]

In May 1970, the crews of two Cuban fishing boats were kidnapped by Florida-based dissident group Alpha 66 kidnapped, who demanded that Cuba release imprisoned militants. Under U.S. pressure, the hostages were released, and Castro welcomed them back as heroes.[211] In April 1971, Castro was international condemned for ordering the arrest of dissident poet Herberto Padilla; Padilla was freed, but the government established the National Cultural Council to ensure that intellectuals and artists supported the administration.[212]

[210] Seeking Soviet help, from 1970–72 Soviet economists re-organized Cuba's economy, founding the Cuban-Soviet Commission of Economic, Scientific and Technical Collaboration, while Soviet Premier [208] Despite the economic issues, many of Castro's social reforms were popular, with the population largely supportive of the "Achievements of the Revolution" in education, medical care, and road construction, as well as the policies of "direct democratic" public consultation.[207] When that year's production quota was not met, Castro offered to resign, but assembled crowds insisted he remain.[206] The 1969 crop was heavily damaged by a hurricane, and to meet its export quota, the government drafted in the army and postponed public holidays to lengthen the harvest.[205] Castro publicly celebrated his administration's 10th anniversary in January 1969; in his celebratory speech he warned of sugar rations, reflecting the nation's economic problems.

Castro and members of the East German Politburo in Berlin, 1972

Economic stagnation and Third World politics: 1969–74

[205], in 1968 Castro proclaimed a Great Revolutionary Offensive, closed all remaining privately owned shops and businesses and denounced their owners as capitalist counter-revolutionaries.Great Leap Forward Influenced by China's [204][203].Czechoslovakia of Warsaw Pact invasion as "fascist reactionary rabble", praising the Prague Spring Castro relented to Brezhnev's pressure to be obedient, and in August 1968 denounced the leaders of the [202] Castro's increasing role on the world stage strained his relationship with the USSR, now under the leadership of

Despite Soviet misgivings, Castro continued calling for global revolution and funded militant leftists. He supported Che Guevara's "Andean project", an unsuccessful plan to set up a guerrilla movement in the highlands of Bolivia, Peru and Argentina, and allowed revolutionary groups from across the world, from the [200]

The greatest threat presented by Castro's Cuba is as an example to other Latin American states which are beset by poverty, corruption, feudalism, and plutocratic exploitation ... his influence in Latin America might be overwhelming and irresistible if, with Soviet help, he could establish in Cuba a Communist utopia.

Walter Lippmann, Newsweek, April 27, 1964[195]

In April 1963, Castro visited the USSR at Khrushchev's personal invitation, visiting 14 cities, addressing a [192]

Militarily weaker than NATO, Khrushchev wanted to install Soviet R-12 MRBM nuclear missiles on Cuba to even the power balance.[181] Although conflicted, Castro agreed, believing it would guarantee Cuba's safety and enhance the cause of socialism.[182] Undertaken in secrecy, only the Castro brothers, Guevara, Dorticós and security chief Ramiro Valdés knew the full plan.[183] Upon discovering it through aerial reconnaissance, in October the U.S. implemented an island-wide quarantine to search vessels headed to Cuba, sparking the Cuban Missile Crisis. The U.S. saw the missiles as offensive; Castro insisted they were for defense only.[184] Castro urged Khrushchev to threaten a nuclear strike on the U.S. should Cuba be attacked, but Khrushchev was desperate to avoid nuclear war.[185] Castro was left out of the negotiations, in which Khruschev agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for a U.S. commitment not to invade Cuba and an understanding that the U.S. would remove their MRBMs from Turkey and Italy.[186] Feeling betrayed by Khruschev, Castro was furious and soon fell ill.[187] Proposing a five-point plan, Castro demanded that the U.S. end its embargo, withdraw from Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, cease supporting dissidents, and stop violating Cuban air space and territorial waters. Presenting these demands to U Thant, visiting Secretary-General of the United Nations, the U.S. ignored them, and in turn Castro refused to allow the U.N.'s inspection team into Cuba.[188]

U-2 reconnaissance photograph of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.

The Cuban Missile Crisis and furthering socialism: 1962–68

The ORI began shaping Cuba using the Soviet model, persecuting political opponents and perceived social deviants such as prostitutes and homosexuals; Castro considered the latter a bourgeois trait.[175] Government officials spoke out against his homophobia, but many gays were forced into the Military Units to Aid Production (Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción - UMAP),[176] something Castro took responsibility for and regretted as a "great injustice" in 2010.[177] By 1962, Cuba's economy was in steep decline, a result of poor economic management and low productivity coupled with the U.S. trade embargo. Food shortages led to rationing, resulting in protests in Cárdenas.[178] Security reports indicated that many Cubans associated austerity with the "Old Communists" of the PSP, while Castro considered a number of them – namely Aníbal Escalante and Blas Roca – unduly loyal to Moscow. In March 1962 Castro removed the most prominent "Old Communists" from office, labelling them "sectarian".[179] On a personal level, Castro was increasingly lonely, and his relations with Guevara became strained as the latter became increasingly anti-Soviet and pro-Chinese.[180]

[174], Cuba allied with the wealthier Soviets, who offered economic and military aid.Sino-Soviet Split Despite their ideological affinity with China, in the [173] Consolidating "Socialist Cuba", Castro united the MR-26-7, Popular Socialist Party and Revolutionary Directorate into a governing party based on the Leninist principle of

The CIA and Democratic Revolutionary Front had based a 1,400-strong army, Brigade 2506, in Nicaragua. At night, Brigade 2506 landed along Cuba's Bay of Pigs, and engaged in a firefight with a local revolutionary militia. Castro ordered Captain José Ramón Fernández to launch the counter-offensive, before taking personal control himself. After bombing the invader's ships and bringing in reinforcements, Castro forced the Brigade's surrender on 20 April.[164] He ordered the 1189 captured rebels to be interrogated by a panel of journalists on live television, personally taking over questioning on 25 April. 14 were put on trial for crimes allegedly committed before the revolution, while the others were returned to the U.S. in exchange for medicine and food valued at U.S. $25 million.[165] Castro's victory was a powerful symbol across Latin America, but it also increased internal opposition primarily among the middle-class Cubans who had been detained in the run-up to the invasion. Although most were freed within a few days, many fled to the U.S., establishing themselves in Florida.[166]

Che Guevara (left) and Castro, photographed by Alberto Korda in 1961

In January 1961, Castro ordered Havana's U.S. Embassy to reduce its 300 staff, suspecting many to be spies. The U.S. responded by ending diplomatic relations, and increasing CIA funding for exiled dissidents; these militants began attacking ships trading with Cuba, and bombed factories, shops, and sugar mills.[160] Both Eisenhower and his successor [163]

There was... no doubts about who the victors were. Cuba's stature in the world soared to new heights, and Fidel's role as the adored and revered leader among ordinary Cuban people received a renewed boost. His popularity was greater than ever. In his own mind he had done what generations of Cubans had only fantacized about: he had taken on the United States and won.

Peter Bourne, Castro biographer, 1986[159]

The Bay of Pigs Invasion and "Socialist Cuba": 1961–62

[158] announced that Cuba was adopting the Soviet model of rule, with a one-party state, government control of trade unions, suppression of civil liberties, and the absence of freedom of speech and press.Christian Herter U.S. Secretary of State In contrast, critics condemned the new regime as non-democratic; [157] systems served the interests of socio-economic elites.representative democratic, in which Cubans could assemble at demonstrations to express their democratic will. As a result, he rejected the need for elections, claiming that direct democracy Castro proclaimed the new administration a [156] In September 1960, they created the [155] Fearing counter-revolutionary elements in the army, the government created a People's Militia to arm citizens favorable to the revolution, training at least 50,000 civilians in combat techniques.[154] Back in Cuba, Castro feared a U.S.-backed coup; in 1959 his regime spent $120 million on Soviet, French, and Belgian weaponry and by early 1960 had doubled the size of Cuba's armed forces.

In September 1960, Castro flew to New York City for the General Assembly of the United Nations. Staying at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, he met with journalists and anti-establishment figures like Malcolm X. He also met Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev, with the two publicly condemning the poverty and racism faced by Americans in areas like Harlem. Relations between Castro and Khrushchev were warm; they led the applause to one another's speeches at the General Assembly.[151] Subsequently visited by Polish First Secretary Władysław Gomułka, Bulgarian Chairman Todor Zhivkov, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Indian Premier Jawaharlal Nehru,[152] Castro also received an evening's reception from the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.[153]

Relations between Cuba and the U.S. were further strained following the explosion of a French vessel, the Le Coubre, in Havana harbor in March 1960. The ship carried weapons purchased from Belgium, the cause of the explosion was never determined, but Castro publicly insinuated that the U.S. government were guilty of sabotage. He ended this speech with "¡Patria o Muerte!" ("Fatherland or Death"), a proclamation that he made much use of in ensuing years.[147] Inspired by their earlier success with the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, in March 1960, U.S. President Eisenhower authorized the CIA to overthrow Castro's government. He provided them with a budget of $13 million and permitted them to ally with the Mafia, who were aggrieved that Castro's government closed down their businesses in Cuba.[148] On 13 October 1960, the U.S. prohibited the majority of exports to Cuba, initiating an economic embargo. In retaliation, INRA took control of 383 private-run businesses on 14 October, and on 25 October a further 166 U.S. companies operating in Cuba had their premises seized and nationalized.[149] On 16 December, the U.S. ended its import quota of Cuban sugar, the country's primary export.[150]

Castro at the United Nations General Assembly in 1960.

By 1960, the Cold War raged between two superpowers: the United States, a capitalist liberal democracy, and the Soviet Union (USSR), a Marxist-Leninist socialist state ruled by the Communist Party. Expressing contempt for the U.S., Castro shared the ideological views of the USSR, establishing relations with several Marxist-Leninist states.[144] Meeting with Soviet First Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan, Castro agreed to provide the USSR with sugar, fruit, fibers, and hides, in return for crude oil, fertilizers, industrial goods, and a $100 million loan.[145] Cuba's government ordered the country's refineries – then controlled by the U.S. corporations Shell, Esso and Standard Oil – to process Soviet oil, but under U.S. pressure, they refused. Castro responded by expropriating and nationalizing the refineries. Retaliating, the U.S. cancelled its import of Cuban sugar, provoking Castro to nationalize most U.S.-owned assets on the island, including banks and sugar mills.[146]

Castro used radio and television to develop a "dialogue with the people", posing questions and making provocative statements.[137] His regime remained popular with workers, peasants, and students, who constituted the majority of the country's population,[138] while opposition came primarily from the middle class; thousands of doctors, engineers and other professionals emigrated to Florida in the U.S., causing an economic brain drain.[139] Productivity decreased and the country's financial reserves were drained within two years.[132] After conservative press expressed hostility towards the government, the pro-Castro printers' trade union disrupted editorial staff, and in January 1960 the government ordered them to publish a "clarification" written by the printers' union at the end of articles critical of the government.[140] Castro's government arrested hundreds of counter-revolutionaries,[141] many of whom were subjected to solitary confinement, rough treatment, and threatening behavior.[142] Militant anti-Castro groups, funded by exiles, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Dominican government, undertook armed attacks and set up guerrilla bases in Cuba's mountains, leading to the six-year War against the Bandits.[143]

Castro (far left), Che Guevara (center), and other leading revolutionaries, marching through the streets in protest at the La Coubre explosion, 5 March 1960.

Castro's government emphasised social projects to improve Cuba's standard of living, often to the detriment of economic development.[135] Major emphasis was placed on education, and under the first 30 months of Castro's government, more classrooms were opened than in the previous 30 years. The Cuban primary education system offered a work-study program, with half of the time spent in the classroom, and the other half in a productive activity.[136] Health care was nationalized and expanded, with rural health centers and urban polyclinics opening up across the island, offering free medical aid. Universal vaccination against childhood diseases was implemented, and infant mortality rates were reduced dramatically.[135] A third aspect of the social programs was the construction of infrastructure; within the first six months of Castro's government, 600 miles of road had been built across the island, while $300 million was spent on water and sanitation schemes.[135] Over 800 houses were constructed every month in the early years of the administration in a measure to cut homelessness, while nurseries and day-care centers were opened for children and other centers opened for the disabled and elderly.[135]

Castro and Indonesian President Sukarno in Havana, 1960

Although refusing to categorize his regime as socialist and repeatedly denying being a communist, Castro appointed Marxists to senior government and military positions; most notably, Che Guevara became Governor of the Central Bank and then Minister of Industries. Appalled, Air Force commander Pedro Luis Díaz Lanz defected to the U.S.[133] Although President Urrutia denounced the defection, he expressed concern with the rising influence of Marxism. Angered, Castro announced his resignation as Prime Minister, blaming Urrutia for complicating government with his "fevered anti-Communism". Over 500,000 Castro-supporters surrounded the Presidential Palace demanding Urrutia's resignation, which was duly received. On July 23, Castro resumed his Premiership and appointed Marxist Osvaldo Dorticós as President.[134]

On February 16, 1959, Castro was sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba.[126] In April he visited the U.S. on a charm offensive where he met Vice President Richard Nixon, whom he instantly disliked.[127] Proceeding to Canada, Trinidad, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, Castro attended an economic conference in Buenos Aires, unsuccessfully proposing a $30 billion U.S.-funded "Marshall Plan" for Latin America.[128] Appointing himself President of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, in May 1959 Castro signed into law the First Agrarian Reform, limiting landholdings to 993 acres (402 ha) per owner and forbidding further foreign land ownership. Around 200,000 peasants received title deeds as large land holdings were broken up; popular among the working class, it alienated many middle class supporters.[129] Castro appointed himself president of the National Tourist Industry, introducing unsuccessful measures to encourage African-American tourists to visit, advertising Cuba as a tropical paradise free of racial discrimination.[130] Judges and politicians had their pay reduced while low-level civil servants saw theirs raised,[131] and in March 1959, Castro ordered rents for those who paid less than $100 a month halved.[132]

Castro in Washington, D.C., arriving at the MATS Terminal (left) and visiting the Lincoln Memorial (right).

Consolidating leadership: 1959–60


In suppressing the revolution, Batista's government had killed thousands of Cubans; at the time, Castro and influential sectors of the press put the death toll at 20,000,[120] although more recent estimates place it between 1000[121] and 4000.[122] In response to popular uproar, which demanded that those responsible be brought to justice, Castro helped set up many trials, resulting in hundreds of executions. Although widely popular domestically, critics – in particular from the U.S. press – argued that many were not fair trials, with Castro responding by proclaiming that "revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction".[123] Acclaimed by many across Latin America, he traveled to Venezuela where he met with President-elect Rómulo Betancourt, unsuccessfully requesting a loan and a new deal for Venezuelan oil.[124] Returning home, an argument between Castro and senior government figures broke out; he was infuriated that the government had left thousands unemployed by closing down casinos and brothels. As a result, Prime Minister José Miró Cardona resigned, going into exile in the U.S. and joining the anti-Castro movement.[125]

We are not executing innocent people or political opponents. We are executing murderers and they deserve it.

— Castro's response to his critics regarding the mass executions, 1959[119]

At Castro's command, the politically moderate lawyer Manuel Urrutia Lleó was proclaimed provisional president, with Castro erroneously announcing he had been selected by "popular election"; most of Urrutia's cabinet were MR-26-7 members.[115] Entering Havana, Castro proclaimed himself Representative of the Rebel Armed Forces of the Presidency, setting up home and office in the penthouse of the Havana Hilton Hotel.[116] Castro exercised a great deal of influence over Urrutia's regime, now ruling by decree. He ensured that they implemented policies to cut corruption and fight illiteracy and attempted to remove Batistanos from positions of power by dismissing Congress and barring all those elected in the rigged elections of 1954 and 1958 from future office. He then pushed Urrutia to issue a temporary ban on political parties; he repeatedly but falsely claimed that they would eventually hold multiparty elections.[117] Although repeatedly denying that he was a communist to press, he began clandestinely meeting members of the Popular Socialist Party to discuss the creation of a socialist state.[118]

Provisional government: 1959

Fearing Castro was a socialist, the U.S. instructed Cantillo to oust Batista. Cantillo secretly agreed to a ceasefire with Castro, promising that Batista would be tried as a war criminal,[107] however Batista was warned, and fled into exile with over US$ 300,000,000 on 31 December 1958.[108] Cantillo entered Havana's Presidential Palace, proclaimed the Supreme Court judge Carlos Piedra to be President, and began appointing the new government.[109] Furious, Castro ended the ceasefire,[110] and ordered Cantillo's arrest by sympathetic figures in the army.[111] Accompanying celebrations at news of Batista's downfall on 1 January 1959, Castro ordered the MR-26-7 to prevent widespread looting and vandalism.[112] Cienfuegos and Guevara led their columns into Havana on 2 January, while Castro entered Santiago and gave a speech invoking the wars of independence.[113] Heading toward Havana, he greeted cheering crowds at every town, giving press conferences and interviews.[114]

Batista responded with an all-out-attack, Operation Verano. The army aerially bombarded forested areas and villages suspected of aiding the militants, while 10,000 soldiers commanded by General Eulogio Cantillo surrounded the Sierra Maestra, driving north to the rebel encampments. Despite their numerical and technological superiority, the army had no experience with guerrilla warfare, and Castro halted their offensive using land mines and ambushes.[104] Many of Batista's soldiers defected to Castro's rebels, who also benefited from local popular support.[105] In the summer, the MR-26-7 went on the offensive, pushing the army out of the mountains, with Castro using his columns in a pincer movement to surround the main army concentration in Santiago. By November, Castro's forces controlled most of Oriente and Las Villas, and divided Cuba in two by closing major roads and rail lines, severely disadvantaging Batista.[106]

Castro's guerrillas increased their attacks on military outposts, forcing the government to withdraw from the Sierra Maestra region, and by spring 1958, the rebels controlled a hospital, schools, a printing press, slaughterhouse, land-mine factory and a cigar-making factory.[101] By 1958, Batista was under increasing pressure, a result of his military failures coupled with increasing domestic and foreign criticism surrounding his administration's press censorship, torture, and extrajudicial executions. Influenced by anti-Batista sentiment among their citizens, the U.S. government ceased supplying him with weaponry.[102] The opposition called a general strike, accompanied by armed attacks from the MR-26-7. Beginning on 9 April, it received strong support in central and eastern Cuba, but little elsewhere.[103]

Castro (right) with fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos entering Havana on January 8, 1959.

Across Cuba, anti-Batista groups carried out bombings and sabotage; police responded with mass arrests, torture, and extrajudicial executions. In March 1957, the DR launched a failed attack on the presidential palace, during which Antonio was shot dead.[96] Frank Pais was also killed, leaving Castro the MR-26-7's unchallenged leader.[97] Although Guevara and Raúl were well known for their Marxist-Leninist views, Castro hid his, hoping to gain the support of less radical revolutionaries. In 1957 he met with leading members of the Partido Ortodoxo, Raúl Chibás and Felipe Pazos, authoring the Sierra Maestra Manifesto, in which they demanded that a provisional civilian government be set up to implement moderate agrarian reform, industrialization, and a literacy campaign before holding multiparty elections.[98] As Cuba's press was censored, Castro contacted foreign media to spread his message; he became a celebrity after being interviewed by Herbert Matthews, a journalist from the New York Times.[99] Reporters from CBS and Paris Match soon followed.[100]

The Granma crash-landed in a mangrove swamp at Playa Las Coloradas, close to Los Cayuelos, on 2 December 1956. Fleeing inland, they headed for the forested mountain range of Oriente's Sierra Maestra, being repeatedly attacked by Batista's troops.[88] Upon arrival, Castro discovered that only 19 rebels had made it to their destination, the rest having been killed or captured.[89] Setting up an encampment, the survivors, including the Castros, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos,[90] began launching raids on small army posts to obtain weaponry. In January 1957 they overran the outpost at La Plata, treating any soldiers that they wounded but executing the local mayoral (land company overseer), who was despised by the local peasants and who boasted of killing one of Castro's rebels.[91] Osorio's execution aided the rebels in gaining the trust of locals, although they largely remained unenthusiastic and suspicious of the revolutionaries.[92] As trust grew, some locals joined the rebels, although most new recruits came from urban areas.[93] With volunteers boosting the rebel forces to over 200, in July 1957 Castro divided his army into three columns, commanded by himself, his brother, and Guevara.[94] The MR-26-7 members operating in urban areas continued agitation, sending supplies to Castro, and on 16 February 1957 he met with other senior members to discuss tactics; here he met Celia Sánchez, who would become a close friend.[95]

The thickly forested mountain range of the Sierra Maestra, from where Castro and his revolutionaries led guerrilla attacks against Batista's forces for two years. Castro biographer Robert E. Quirk noted that there was "no better place to hide" in all the island.[87]

Guerrilla war: 1956–59

Purchasing decrepit yacht the Granma, on 25 November 1956 Castro set sail from Tuxpan, Veracruz, with 81 armed revolutionaries.[84] The 1,200 mile crossing to Cuba was harsh, with food running low and many suffering seasickness. At some points they had to bail water caused by a leak, and at another a man fell overboard, delaying their journey.[85] The plan had been for the crossing to take 5 days, and on the Granma’s scheduled day of arrival, 30 November, MR-26-7 members under Frank Pais led an armed uprising in Santiago and Manzanillo. However, the Granma's journey ultimately lasted 7 days, and with Castro and his men unable to provide reinforcements, Pais and his militants dispersed after two days of intermittent attacks.[86]

In 1955, bombings and violent demonstrations led to a crackdown on dissent, with Castro and Raúl fleeing the country to evade arrest.[76] Castro sent a letter to the press, declaring that he was "leaving Cuba because all doors of peaceful struggle have been closed to me... As a follower of Martí, I believe the hour has come to take our rights and not beg for them, to fight instead of pleading for them."[77] The Castros and several comrades traveled to Mexico,[78] where Raúl befriended an Argentine doctor and Marxist-Leninist named Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Fidel liked him, later describing him as "a more advanced revolutionary than I was."[79] Castro also associated with the Spaniard Alberto Bayo, who agreed to teach Castro's rebels the necessary skills in guerrilla warfare.[80] Requiring funding, Castro toured the U.S. in search of wealthy sympathizers, there being monitored by Batista's agents, who allegedly orchestrated a failed assassination attempt against him.[81] Castro kept in contact with the MR-26-7 in Cuba, where they had gained a large support base in Oriente.[82] Other militant anti-Batista groups had sprung up, primarily from the student movement; most notable was the Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil (DRE), founded by José Antonio Echevarría. Antonio met with Castro in Mexico City, but Castro opposed the student's support for indiscriminate assassination.[83]

Fidel's brother Raúl (left) and friend Guevara (right).

In 1954, Batista's government held presidential elections, but no politician stood against him; the election was widely considered fraudulent. It had allowed some political opposition to be voiced, and Castro's supporters had agitated for an amnesty for the Moncada incident's perpetrators. Some politicians suggested an amnesty would be good publicity, and the Congress and Batista agreed. Backed by the U.S. and major corporations, Batista believed Castro to be no threat, and on May 15, 1955 the prisoners were released.[72] Returning to Havana, Castro gave radio interviews and press conferences; the government closely monitored him, curtailing his activities.[73] Now divorced, Castro had sexual affairs with two female supporters, Naty Revuelta and Maria Laborde, each conceiving him a child.[74] Setting about strengthening the MR-26-7, he established an 11-person National Directorate but retained autocratic control, with some dissenters labeling him a caudillo (dictator); he argued that a successful revolution could not be run by committee and required a strong leader.[75]

[71] Meanwhile, Castro's wife Mirta gained employment in the Ministry of the Interior, something he discovered through a radio announcement. Appalled, he raged that he would rather die "a thousand times" than "suffer impotently from such an insult". Both Fidel and Mirta initiated divorce proceedings, with Mirta taking custody of their son Fidelito; this angered Castro, who did not want his son growing up in a bourgeois environment.[70] after inmates sang anti-Batista songs on a visit by the President in February 1954.solitary confinement Initially permitted a relative amount of freedom within the prison, he was locked up in [69]

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