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Diplomacy and Conflict • Guerrilla Warfare

Cuban communist revolutionary guerrilla fighter and leader of Cuba from January 1959 to 2008. Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born on August 13, 1926, in the municipality of Mayarí (Oriente Province, modern-day Holguín Provicne). His father was a wealthy sugarcane planter of Spanish origin. Castro studied at the University of Havana, earning a law degree in 1950. Here his political formation began in the action-oriented and often violent student politics of the period.

As part of the wave of disaffection with government corruption, Castro joined the new Ortodoxo (Orthodox) Party led by Eduardo Chibás and in 1947 participated in actions to overthrow Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo. In 1948 Castro attended a student congress in Bogotá, Colombia, where major disturbances broke out after the assassination of the popular radical politician Jorge Gaitán.

Cuban Revolution

After the 1952 Cuban military coup carried out by Fulgencio Batista, Castro and his Orthodox Party allies initiated a campaign of resistance against the newly installed dictatorship. On July 26, 1953, the youthful rebels attacked the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba, the country's second-largest city. The assault failed, and Castro was ultimately imprisoned on the Island of Pines. His defense speech at his trial, titled "History Will Absolve Me," was a powerful denunciation of social and economic injustice that would subsequently serve as a rallying cry in his struggle against the Batista regime.

In 1955, Castro was released from prison as part of a general amnesty and took refuge in Mexico. There he and his comrades, who would eventually establish the July 26 Movement, connected with Argentinean physician and revolutionary Che Guevara. In December 1956 Castro, Guevara, and their followers sailed from Mexico on board the yacht Granma and landed in southeastern Cuba. This marked the beginning of a two-year military and political campaign to overthrow the U.S.-supported Batista regime. In the last days of 1958, Batista fled the island, and Castro entered Havana in triumph in January 1959.

Castro and the Cold War

From that point on, Castro steadily increased his influence. In February 1959 he made himself premier. Increasingly, he based his regime on anti-Americanism. During 1959–1962, he moved Cuba radically to the Left. Two agrarian reforms—confrontation with the United States over American investments in Cuba and U.S. support for counterrevolutionary movements culminating in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion—led to a break in diplomatic relations with the United States. In December 1961, Castro declared that he was a Marxist-Leninist. Economic, political, and military ties with the Soviet Union strengthened steadily throughout the 1960s.

Settlement of the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis led to Cuban anger over what was seen as a Soviet betrayal of Cuban interests. It initiated a complex period in Cuban-Soviet relations characterized by Castro's suspicion of the Soviet Union's motives tempered by a growing reliance on Soviet economic assistance.

While Cuba became a member of Comecon and received important Soviet military aid in the 1960s, Castro's foreign policy, especially in Latin America, embraced the strategy of armed revolution conducted by guerrilla movements in Guatemala, Venezuela, Peru, and Bolivia. This challenged Soviet support for policies of peaceful coexistence with the West.

By the end of the 1960s, the failure of the first wave of Castro-inspired guerrilla wars and the collapse of his ambitious plans to industrialize Cuba and produce a record 10 million–ton sugar crop in 1970 led to an accommodation with Soviet economic and strategic goals in the 1970s. Steady economic growth and institutionalization weakened Cuba's commitment to continental and even worldwide revolution. However, adjustment to Soviet economic orthodoxy did not completely erode Castro's commitment to support of socialist liberation movements.

In Bolivia during 1967–1968, with support for Guevara's revolutionary expedition and then in the 1980s in Grenada, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, Castro assisted revolutionary movements and left-wing governments. He began sending Cuban military forces to Angola in November 1975, which helped to turn the tide there against South Africa's attempt to defeat the left-wing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in Angola. Some see the Cuban victory in the 1988 Battle of Cuito Carnavale as the beginning of the end of the apartheid regime.

The End of the Cold War

The renewed Cold War of the 1980s ended with the defeat of the Cuban-supported Sandinista government in Nicaragua and the negotiation of an end to the civil war in El Salvador, which pitted Cuban-supported Farabundo Martí's National Liberation Front (FLMN) forces against a series of U.S.-supported governments. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself in 1991 were serious setbacks for Castro both economically, with a sharp falloff in Soviet aid, and diplomatically. In the 1990s, Castro announced the launching of "The Special Period in Times of Peace," which inaugurated a shift away from Soviet-style economic institutions toward a limited tolerance for private economic enterprises. It also embraced tourism and encouraged investments from Europe, Asia, Canada, and Latin America.

The end of the Cold War did not, as most observers anticipated, bring about the demise of Castro's regime. In spite of his adoption of many Soviet models, the indigenous, nationalist roots of Cuba's noncapitalist path since 1959 continued to confound predictions. In spite of Cuba's assimilation of many Soviet models, the nationalist roots of Cuba's noncapitalist path after 1959 have continued to confound the millenarian predictions of "Cubanologists."

On July 31, 2006, the Cuban government announced that Castro had temporarily ceded presidential power to his brother, Raúl, while he underwent surgery for intestinal problems. It was the first time that Castro had been out of power since the 1959 revolution. On February 18, 2008, the elder Castro announced that he would neither seek nor accept the presidency and would decline the post of commander in chief at the next meeting of the National Assembly of People's Power. This announcement effectively marked the end of his position as the political and military leader of Cuba.

Death of Castro

In a rare public appearance, Castro attended an April 2016 congress of the Cuban Communist Party, telling those in attendance, "Soon I will be like everybody else. Our turn comes to us all, but the ideas of Cuban communism will endure."

Less than eight months after his farewell to the party, Castro died on November 25, 2016, as announced on Cuban state television. He was 90 years old. News of Castro's death elicited mixed reactions around the globe, including celebratory responses from many Cuban Americans in South Florida's exile community, and national mourning throughout Cuba.

Castro's retreat from public life enabled his successor, Raúl Castro, to cultivate improved relations with the United States. That process began in earnest in 2014 and culminated in a resumption of full diplomatic relations between the two countries the following year. In March 2016, President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years.

Mayari Holguin Chibas Bogota, Gaitan. "History Me," Marti's "The Peace," "Cubanologists." Raul, "Soon endure." Raul

Further Reading

Morley, Morriis. Imperial State; The United States and Revolution and Cuba, 1952–1986. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987; Paterson, Thomas G. Contesting Castro: The United States and the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994; Welch, Richard E., Jr. Response to Revolution: The United States and the Cuban Revolution, 1959-1961. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

MLA Citation

Carr, Barry. "Fidel Castro." World at War: Understanding Conflict and Society, ABC-CLIO, 2019, worldatwar.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/756781. Accessed 21 Apr. 2019.

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Entry ID: 2180538

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