The world’s longest serving leader has survived through more than most – infuriating his opponents for almost half a century, and probably beyond. Despite hundreds of assassination attempts, the US embargo, sabotage, the assassination of Che Guevara and ongoing slander, Fidel Castro remains committed as ever to the revolution.
Born on August 13, 1926, to Lina Ruz and Angel Castro, Fidel was exposed to poverty and its ramifications from an early age. His family was wealthy – Angel was a landowner and had many peasants working for him. Fidel grew up, in a way more privileged than other children, at the same time disregarding his family’s social status and befriending children from peasant families as well.
Fidel went to school in Biran, already displaying brilliance and an excellent memory. At the suggestion of the schoolmistress, Fidel was sent to her home in Santiago de Cuba with the promise of furthering his education. However, this promise never materialised – indeed Fidel states that they never had any lessons. He managed to escape and return home, together with his brother Ramon.
Letter to America
Fidel’s popularity at school grew. At the Jesuit college of Dolores, he once sent a letter to President Roosevelt, asking him for a ten dollar green American bill. He received a letter of acknowledgement from the office which was pinned to the school notice board.
During his years at the University of Havana, Fidel became active in politics. He joined the Partido Ortodoxo led by Eduardo Chibas, who was a voice against the rampant corruption and injustice. Chibas later committed suicide during a radio broadcast. University life was fraught with political repercussions – and it was during this time that Fidel’s skills as an orator were brought to the limelight. Upon graduating as a lawyer, Fidel spent most of the time offering his services for free to those who could not afford legal aid.
“History Will Absolve Me”
Fulgencio Batista’s coup d’état on March 10, 1952 incited Fidel to take action. His appeal to the Constitutional Court against the coup was rejected and plans for revolution were in progress. On July 26, 1953 Fidel Castro and a group of revolutionaries carried out the Moncada Barracks attack. Fidel and his brother, Raul Castro, were among the few that managed to escape the bloodbath that ensued although they were later captured. Fidel’s trial gave him a platform and probided him with the necessary prominence and recognition. His defence, which the courts hoped to cut short, lasted over four hours, ending with the defiant cry of “history will absolve me.” He was sentenced to 15 years in prison on the Isles of Pines, but was released in 1955 following a general amnesty granted by Batista.
Fidel fled to Mexico, where the revolutionaries starting regrouping and planning the revolution against Batista. It was there that he met Ernesto Che Guevara. On December 2, 1956 Fidel and the revolutionaries returned to Cuba on the Granma yacht. However, they were dispersed by Batista’s army, and the survivors regrouped in the Sierra Maestra. Che Guevara’s attack on the barracks of Santa Clara was a success, Camilo Cienfuegos won the battle at Camaguey and in the early hours of January 1, 1959, Batista fled into exile in the Dominican Republic. Fidel entered Havana triumphantly on January 8, 1959.
“I am a Fidelista”
Following the implementation of the agrarian reform and the First Declaration of Havana, which called for severing all ties with imperialism, Fidel Castro’s time in the United States for the UN General Assembly was replete with complications. President Dwight Eisenhower refused to invite the Cuban delegation to lunch, whereupon Fidel expressed delight at being invited to Harlem to dine “with the humble people.” It was there that he met Nikita Khrushchev who, after meeting Fidel expressed “I do not know if Fidel is a communist but I know I am a Fidelista.” Relations between the two countries strengthened as the Soviet Union provided planes for the Cuban delegation to return home, as the US had impounded their planes in retaliation for debt payments allegedly owed by Havana. “The Soviets are our friends. Here you took our planes … Soviets give us planes,” Fidel retaliated before boarding the plane. However, relations between the Soviet Union and Cuba became very strained during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Second Declaration of Havana, 1962, stated that it was the duty of every revolutionary to make revolution. It followed the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961, where CIA-trained Cuban exiles attempted to invade Cuba but were defeated within 72 hours. In 1962, President Kennedy ordered an economic, financial and commercial embargo on Cuba.
The assassination of Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967 spelled the end of spreading the revolution to Latin America.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many analysts predicted the end of communist Cuba and Fidel Castro, without taking into consideration what the revolution meant for the Cuban peasants, or campesinos. Fidel temporarily handed power over to his brother, Raul, in 2006 and permanently resigned from his post as President in 2008. Fidel’s capacity as an analyst remains as brilliant as ever, and his reflections can be read as regular columns published under Reflections of Fidel.
See also: The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro – a Revolution Inscribed from Incarceration
See Ramona’s blog: http://walzerscent.blogspot.com/