Fidel Castro

Fidel Alejandro Castro was born on August 13, 1926 in Cuba. He was brought up by wealthy parents and had five siblings. Fidel’s parents, both illiterate, were determined their children should receive a good education.  Fidel was sent to a Jesuit boarding school where he learnt discipline and soon showed that he was extremely intelligent. However even as a teenage Fidel was a rebellious boy, he helped organize a strike of sugar workers on his father’s plantation.

Fidel went on to become a lawyer in Havana, often taking on the cases of people who could not afford to pay him, leaving himself constantly short of money. Fidel’s experience as a lawyer made him extremely critical of the great inequalities in wealth that existed in Cuba. Fidel resented the wealth and power of the American businessmen who appeared to control the country.

In 1947 Fidel joined the Cuban People’s Party. Fidel was attracted to this new party’s campaign against corruption, injustice, poverty, unemployment and low wages. By 1952 he was a candidate for congress for the Cuban People’s Party. A powerful public speaker Fidel soon built up a following amongst the young members of the party.  The party was expected to win the election but during the campaign with the support of the armed forces General Batista took control of the country. For the Cuban People’s Party to gain power Fidel came to the conclusion that revolution was the only way.

By 1953 Fidel planed to overthrow Batista by attacking the Moncada Army Barracks with an armed group. The plan ended in disaster with eight of his group killed in the fighting and another eighty murdered by the army after they were captured. Fidel avoiding execution was put on trial and charged with organising an armed uprising. Using this opportunity Fidel made a speech about the problems of Cuba and how they could be solved, this speech later became a book entitled ‘History Will Absolve Me’. Fidel was found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Fidel became famous in Cuba from the trial and the publication of the book. His attempted revolution had considerable support in the country.  Batista decided to release Fidel after he had served only two years of his sentence due to considerable pressure from the Cuban population. Castro left for Mexico where he began to plan another attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.

The Batista’s soldiers arrested, tortured and questioned many innocent people. Suspects, including children, were publicly executed then left hanging in the streets for several days as a warning to others who were considering joining Fidel.

Despite Batista having the backing of the United States government, Castro was confident he could beat him in a battle to rule Cuba. Castro’s troops began to march into the main towns and soon after Batista fled Cuba. In response the remaining government Generals attempted to rule, however Castro called for a general strike and the workers of Cuba supported him, forcing the military to accept their desire for change. As a result in 1959 Fidel Castro became Cuba’s new leader.

Castro’s government passed many new laws. Rent was cut for low paid workers by as much as 50 percent and land owned by Batista and his former ministers confiscated.   Cuba’s US owned Telephone Company was nationalised and land redistributed among peasants. Morally opposed to racism, drugs, prostitution and gambling, Castro abolished segregation laws in public places such as swimming pools and cemeteries, and passed laws to close down casinos and night clubs. He believed in education for all. In Cuba at this time particularly in poor rural areas, many people were illiterate and children did not attend school. Following the revolution Castro set about changing this. At Castro’s request students travelled to rural areas, teaching people to read and write. Eventually free education was made available to all Cubans. To help improve the health of the young the government introduced a free health service and began a mass inoculation program.

During the three years following the revolution a quarter of a million Cubans out of a population of six million left the country. Many were middle and upper class Cubans who found they were worse off financially as a result of Castro’s policies.  Whilst most Cubans who remained in the country supported him, many began to resent Castro. He did not keep his promise to hold free elections and was becoming less tolerant to those who disagreed with him. He sacked ministers and replaced them with people who were often young and inexperienced. Politicians who disagreed with him faced being arrested and considered as deviants, as were homosexuals who were often imprisoned.

Castro used his power to achieve many good things in Cuba including social welfare, universal education, almost guaranteed employment and quality health care. However his one- party state jailed those who opposed him, ruined the economy and led hundreds of thousands of Cubans to flee. This abuse of power has led to a government which controls every Cuban newspaper, television channel and radio station and restricts internet access. Castro used his power to avenge the torture and murder of hundreds of Cubans by the Batista government. He set up public tribunals where the people responsible were tried and executed. Whilst this pleased many Cubans, world opinion was divided and somewhat shocked.

Denied the right to vote against Castro and his party in free elections, anyone can be jailed for “social dangerousness” which does not need them to have committed any specific offence. Before coming to power Fidel Castro used his power to influence Cubans to have faith in him and support him and the revolution to overthrow the Batista government. Many Cubans kept their faith and belief in Castro right till the end of his political life, however this goodwill was not returned. Fidel Castro remained suspicious of not only other governments, but also of his own people for as long as he was in power. Castro’s health declined and in 2006 he transferred his political responsibilities to a younger brother.

- by Maddi Pecar