Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz
was born August 13, 1926, on his family's sugar cane plantation
Growing up, Castro played and worked in the sugar cane fields around him. It was something with which he was intimately familiar, as it was his family's livelihood, and it was expected that one day, it would be his own. The Castro family's social status
allowed for Fidel's education at the nation's finest Jesuit
schools, and even Belen College
all the way over in Havana
. He would go on to enter the University of Havana
in 1945, where he studied law
In his University circles, he was very active in politics and government. He was fiercely opposed to the Batista
regime, which he saw as just another puppet government the United States
used to extend its power further into Latin America
. He saw Cuba
as another Banana Republic
, but in this case the bananas were sugar
, and organized crime
As these feelings of resentment for U.S. policy in the region began to grow stronger, Castro felt something had to be done. He fell in with a mixed group of Cubans and Dominicans at the university who were privy to a revolt being staged against the Trujillo
dictatorship in the nearby Dominican Republic
. In 1947, the group joined in that revolt, only to be crushed by the stronger Trujillo regime. Fidel managed to escape back to Havana to receive his law degree in 1950. It was during this relatively settled period of study and normalcy that he married Mirta Diaz Balart
in 1948. They would have one son together before divorcing in 1955.
Castro's work as a lawyer was mainly defending the poor and politically oppressed. He made a bid for a seat in the Cuban national congress in 1952, only to have the rug yanked out from under him by Batista's cancelling of the elections. To Castro, this was the last straw. He contacted his brother, Raúl, and the two came up with a plan of action.
With their own money, the Castro brothers purchased 150 guns and raised nearly that many men to form an armed militia. On July 26th, 1953, the group raided the Moncada
army barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Castro's second revolt against a dictatorship was again crushed. This time, the culprits were imprisoned. It was at his trial in 1953 that Fidel delivered his infamous speech entitled History Will Absolve Me
The Batista regime released the Castro brothers in 1955, after two years of life in the worst of Cuban prisons. The hermanos Castro
were exiled from the country. They first went to New York
, but later would up in Mexico City
. It was in Mexico
where Fidel would first meet the travelling Argentine
doctor, whom everyone called 'Che
'. Little did he know at the time, but this strange Argentine would become one of Fidel's best friends and most trusted advisors.
It was also in Mexico that the Castro brothers planned day and night to take their country back from Batista. With funds and men gathered from all sorts of interested parties, (There were even some U.S. interests represented, no doubt collected with Raúl's little fundraising forays into the U.S.), the team set out to train. With everything organized, the rebels set out for Cuba
on Novermber 25, 1956 from the little Mexican gulf town of Tuxpan
, aboard the Granma
, a small cabin cruiser purchased from an American expatriate by the name of Robert Erickson.
situation was a near disaster, as the ship was overloaded with 80 men and their supplies. In fact, it was so overloaded that some of the men were left behind in Mexico because there was absolutely no more space for anything on board.
The Granma having missed their contacts on Cuba, ran aground on a sandbar off the coast of Oriente Province on December 2, 1956. Most of the men were either killed or captured, and in a seasick, weakened state, those who escaped into the mountains had to abandon much of their equipment and supplies. However, with the help of local peasants and some luck, the rebel
group began to gain a stronghold in the Sierra Madre
mountains. Soon, the rebels were conducting routine patrols and raids on government installations. Even some of the captured government army regulars defected to Castro's guerrillas
. With momentum gaining, the guerrillas managed to take more and more territory, eventually capturing Havana in Jaurary of 1959. Batista had since fled the country. A controversial series of show trials ensued, being led by officials like Guevara. Hundreds were tried and executed. This did not put a favorable mark on Cuba in the rest of thee world's eyes.
One of Castro's first orders of business was to fly to Washington in April 1959 to meet with President Eisenhower
. However, Eisenhower was on vacation not to be bothered, so Castro was referred to Vice President Richard Nixon
. Castro was so insulted at this dismissal that the meeting did not go well at all, with Nixon commenting later that Castro was to be watched, as he was trouble.
As one of Castro's main goals was a Cuba independent as possible on all fronts, and since he was given the cold shoulder from the U.S., Fidel began to rid the island of foreign involvement, nationalizing sugar plantations, oil refineries, hotels, and casinos which were all owned by wealthy Americans. Needless to say this did not fare well with the U.S. government, and relations deteriorated. With Cuba sitting on the fence in the middle of the Cold War
, it only took some advice from the two prominent communists
in Castro's government, Che Guevara
and Raúl Castro
, to coerce Fidel into establishing warmer relations with the Soviets. If anything, Castro saw this as a good idea to protect himself from any retaliations from the United States.
On January 3, 1961, the United States severed all relations with Cuba. In April of that year, CIA
-trained Cuban exiles attempted to invade Cuba, much like Castro did, landing at the Bay of Pigs
. Castro's forces easily repelled the invasion. The entire operation is to this day one of the major embarassments in U.S. history.
With Soviet relations stronger every day, Nikita Khrushchev decided it would be a good idea to use Cuba as a missile base for Soviet
ICBM's. The resulting controvery
nearly brought nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union
. Castro played no visible role in all of this, and he resented both Khrushchev and Kennedy
for negotiating without him. This act only furthered Castro's anti-imperialist views, as he saw Cuba as just a pawn in the game between the two superpowers. His response was to not allow weapons inspectors into Cuba whatsoever.
Relations with the Soviets and Americans were at an all time low. Castro had to make some deals. In December of 1962, he traded 1,113 Bay of Pigs prisoners to the Americans in exchange for food and medicine. As this was a goodwill gesture towards the United States
, and it got Cuba much needed supplies, Castro worked out subsequent deals in the 1970's and 1980's for refugee release. At the same time, however, Castro toughened up his image by supporting UNITA
rebels in Angola
, the Sandinistas
, and several guerrilla uprisings in El Salvador
, vowing to export his revolution to the rest of Latin America
With the collapse of the Soviet Union
in the early 1990's, Castro's Cuba was no longer receiving aid that allowed it to maintain Latin America's finest medical system, as well as some of the region's best education systems. The economy collapsed and Castro was forced once again to revise his policy for the good of the nation. He legalized the U.S. dollar
, opened Cuba's beautiful shores to tourism and began campaigns to build a better Cuba, but while still maintaining distance from his old foe, the United States. He even gave up cigars so as to present himself as a better role model for Cuba's youth. Today, he still rules the island
, which is slowly but surely repairing itself after a decade of economic downfall. He is an old man now, having overseen what he thought was best for his homeland, after seeing the horrors committed by the previous regime. He may have not been the best leader, but there is no doubt that in his mind, he only wanted the best for his country.
Editors Note: Cuban state television announced that Castro had died on the night of November 25, 2016. The cause of death was not disclosed. He was 90 years old.