Biography of Famous Cuban Leader Fidel Castro Part 3

About the famous Cuban leader Fidel Castro, biography and history of the ruler.

Famous and Infamous Rulers in History

FIDEL CASTRO

Fidel drew a 15-year prison sentence but was given amnesty after 22 months. He reorganized his guerrilla followers in Mexico, and they named themselves "the 26th of July Movement" after the Moncada Barracks attack. Since 1959 this date has been celebrated as Cuban independence day. In Mexico, Castro bought a dilapidated American yacht named the Granma and planned the next phase of the struggle against Batista. He even announced his planned invasion of Cuba to the public, claiming that psychological warfare was an essential tactic. His force of 82 guerrillas sailed from Mexico on the partially disabled yacht, and on Dec. 2, 1956, they waded ashore on the swampy coast of Castro's native Oriente Province. Government forces were waiting to ambush them, and only 12 of the rebels escaped into the Sierra Maestra mountains and survived. The Batista government announced the rebels' defeat and the death of their leader. Then Castro invited New York Times correspondent Herbert Matthews into the rebel camp for an interview, thus astonishing not only the people of Cuba but spectators around the world. The guerrillas gradually built up their strength to 800 men to fight Batista's army of 30,000. After a long period during which survival alone counted as victory, the rebels took the offensive in the spring and summer of 1958. By the end of that year a detachment led by Argentinean radical Ernesto "Che" Guevara had captured the provincial capital of Santa Clara in central Cuba. Incredibly, Batista chose to quit without a confrontation. He packed his bags with cash and fled to the Dominican Republic in the first few hours of the new year, 1959. Like Moses parting the Red Sea, Castro then triumphantly proceeded through Cuba. In the words of U.S. photojournalist Lee Lockwood, an eyewitness, "It was a fabulous time. For a moment, at least, even the most pessimistic suspended their 20th-century cynicism and saw Fidel Castro as the incarnation of a legendary hero surrounded by an aura of magic, a bearded Parsifal who had brought miraculous deliverance to an ailing Cuba."

In Power: Preferring the Havana Hilton to Batista's presidential palace, Castro set up quarters there and proclaimed 1959 as the year of the revolution. He proceeded immediately with the transformation of Cuba. First on the agenda was a public trial of the old regime's "war criminals." Mobilizing the country around a new theme each year, he proclaimed 1960 the year of agriculture and 1961 the year of education. Illiteracy was subsequently reduced from 24% to 4%. Castro envisioned massive changes in Cuban society: the elimination of vice, prostitution, corruption, gambling, and poverty. Initially the regime drew U.S. endorsement for such admirable goals. "I think Fidel Castro has done a magnificent job," said Nelson Rockefeller in August, 1959. But this support withered quickly as Castro forged an alliance with the Soviet Union and placed himself in the forefront of socialist revolution in South America. Castro vehemently denied being a communist and claimed that the purpose of the revolution was Cuba's true independence from any ideological or economic master. Having once served as the U.S.'s sugar factory, Cuba would not now become a Soviet pawn, Castro claimed.

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