Fidel Castro

Will history remember him as a leader who ended U.S. hegemony over Cuba by creating a more egalitarian society and providing Cubans access to free education and healthcare? Or will he go down in the history books as a leader who repressed his citizens and turned Cuba into an underdeveloped country isolated from the rest of the world?

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    Fidel Castro was a polarising Cuban politician and communist revolutionary who governed the Republic of Cuba from 1976 to 2008. In his many years in power, he faced opposition from the United States and numerous assassination attempts.

    Fidel Castro: biography summary

    Fidel Castro portrait of Fidel Castro StudySmarterFig. 1 Portrait of Fidel Castro

    Fidel Castro was born in 1926 to Spanish immigrants in Cuba, where he grew up. While he studied law, he participated in many violent protests and uprisings. After graduation, Castro became a member of the Cuban People's Party. He ran for the House of Representatives, winning a seat in 1952.

    Not long after, General Fulgencio Batista took power in a military coup and became the sole ruler, cancelling elections. In addition, he aligned himself with the U.S. and broke relations with the Soviet Union. While Castro tried to overthrow the government through legal means, all attempts failed.

    Fidel Castro and Che Guevara

    To oppose Batista's regime, Castro armed and trained a task force of 160 people to overthrow the government, hoping to get popular support. Instead, he launched an attack in 1953, where most of his men died. He was arrested and eventually released after being granted political amnesty in 1955. Afterwards, he travelled to Mexico to continue his campaign against the government.

    In Mexico, he was introduced to Che Guevara, a Marxist revolutionary gifted in strategy and experienced in guerrilla warfare. His time with him influenced his sympathy for the guerrilla's attempts to ignite a revolution. With Guevara, who joined his forces, he organised an expedition to Cuba.

    Cuban Revolution

    Fidel Castro Cuban Revolution 24th anniversary poster StudySmarterFig. 2 Cuban Revolution 24th anniversary poster.

    Armed with 82 men, Castro and Guevara sailed to Cuba, but most were killed on arrival. Only Fidel Castro, his brother Raul, Guevara and up to 20 others survived to retreat to la Sierra Maestra to organise and execute guerrilla warfare. Since Batista's government was very unpopular, Castro garnered support from the Cuban people, and government forces aligned themselves with Fidel. To market his cause, Castro used international media to portray his rebellion as Cubans fighting for their liberty.

    Due to international pressure, the U.S. stopped supplying Batista with weapons. Shortly afterwards, Batista fled Cuba and left his forces protecting the capital, in 1959, Guevara and his troops took the city due to the poor organisation of the government's forces. A few days later, Castro followed.

    Prime Minister and President

    In 1959, Castro took office as the Prime Minister of Cuba, promising to restore the 1940s constitution and civil liberties, and implement moderate reforms. One of his first measures was the Agrarian Reform of 1959, which made land ownership illegal for foreigners and significant wealth redistribution

    To raise Cuba's standard of living, Castro endorsed many social projects, though sometimes at the expense of economic development. He nationalised private industries and commerce to redistribute its administration and entered a trade agreement with the Soviet Union in 1960, gaining distrust from the United States.

    There were many U.S. attempts to overthrow Castro's regime, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion and other operations organised by the CIA, the Department of Defense, and the State Department, which continued during his lifetime. The 2006 British documentary, "638 ways to kill Castro", affirms his survival after over 600 attempts1.

    After many years in power, Castro created a one-party government and, as head of the economic administration, failed to achieve significant economic growth, becoming more dependent on the Soviet Union.

    His administration encouraged socialist revolutions in Latin America and sent troops to aid conflicts in Africa, seeking to expand socialism and gain more status in developing countries. In addition, he made sure to help Latin American countries that were left-aligned, such as promising aid to Argentina during the Falklands War and entering a trade agreement with Venezuela.

    In Cuba, his one-party dictatorship became more brutal towards political opponents, as the new constitution gave him complete control over every political, economic, and social element. The administration also formed the Council of State, with Castro assuming leadership as both President and Prime Minister. He continued his repression of political opponents and dissidents while controlling the country's economic, political, and social elements.

    In 2006, he stepped down from power due to declining health, confirming in 2008 that he would not accept another term as President. He left Cuba's leadership to his brother, Raúl Castro.

    Fidel Castro's death

    From 2008 to 2016, Castro stepped down from the public eye, only writing a memoir and publishing a few letters and essays, one of which was addressed to Barack Obama. Near his death, he reminded the assembly of his goals and asked them to continue the revolution. Fidel Castro was announced dead on November 25th, 2016, though authorities did not release the cause of death.

    Fidel Castro's ideology

    Castro identified as a Marxist–Leninist and Cuban nationalist ideologically. He aimed to change Cuba from a capitalist state ruled by foreign imperialism to a socialist and, eventually, communist society. Despite this, he differed from traditional left-radicals in his high regard for guerrilla-style revolution over the worker's uprising described by Marx.

    While Marx advocated for a progressive transition from any regime to establish a socialist state and then achieve communism, after a short time, Fidel established what he called a 'perfect communist nation' in Cuba. However, this was held together only with him at the centre with an iron grip on state affairs. He also eliminated other movements in the country to allow the Communist Party to be front and centre.

    Furthermore, as a communist, he believed in eliminating social classes which plagued Cuba during Bautista's regime and wished to achieve common ownership of Cuba's industries and allocate commodities to every citizen.

    Fidel Castro also had very anti-imperialist beliefs, inspired by Simon Bolivar. He wished for Cuba and other developing countries to achieve total independence from major powers to reduce their influence on world politics. Imperialist nations, Fidel believed, only weakened developing countries.

    To bolster the strength of these countries, Fidel supported strong militaries and self-sufficient economies. His policies to do this were advocating conscription, nationalising local industries, and ensuring employment for all citizens.

    Foreign powers controlled Cuba for a long time, obstructing the construction of national identity. Since no specific characteristic defines a Cuban besides being born on the island, Fidel played into this gap by influencing Cubans to identify with his government. This also facilitated his communist beliefs as people are more willing to tolerate economic strife in the country's name.

    While many socialist and communist countries in Eastern Europe fell, Cuba continued to survive as a socialist nation despite its economic troubles. Fidel quickly found new allies in Latin America after the fall of the Soviet Union.

    Fidel Castro and Communism

    Communism was an important part of Castor's ideology and this was reflected in his policies as Prime Minister and President of Cuba. The following table shows some of these policies.

    Fidel Castro's Communist Policies

    Social

    • Education as a top priority

    • Higher salaries for civil servants and lower wages for judges and politicians

    • Establish the People's Militia and other organisations to defend the revolution and spy on dissident organisations.

    • Embracing environmentalism.

    Economic

    • Nationalising foreign gas plants and national means of production for redistribution.

    • Closing all private stores and businesses

    • Heavy reliance on the Soviet Union

    • Expanding the economy to biotechnology and tourism.

    National Program

    • Establishment of a one-party state.

    • Control over labour unions, suppression of civil rights, and lack of freedom of expression.

    • Establishment of the ministry of the environment.

    Foreign Affairs

    • Anti-imperialism is the primary policy.

    • Suppressing or limiting the right of Cubans to flee the country.

    • Aid for left-aligned states.

    • Close alignment with the Soviet Union.

    • Influenced communist revolutions in Latin America and Africa.

    As Cuban politics became more aligned with communism, the United States became more suspicious of the government. This resulted in an alliance with the Soviet Union, which sponsored the Castro regime generously. This alignment during the Cold War dragged Cuba into the middle of the Cold War through events like the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    The Bay of Pigs invasion was an attempt to overthrow Castro's regime organised by Eisenhower's Office and inherited by Kennedy's administration, who doubted the wisdom of the scheme. The plan was to attack Cuba's air force and invade the island through the Bay of Pigs, with the CIA promising to keep U.S. involvement a secret to avoid retaliation. Unfortunately, they couldn't complete their mission since Cuban officials were tipped off about the plan, they accidentally broadcasted their radio transmissions, and coral reefs sank some exile's ships.

    Fidel Castro - Key takeaways

    • Fidel Castro was a Cuban politician and revolutionary who governed the Republic of Cuba from 1959 to 2016.
    • Castro's most outstanding achievement was his revolution to take down Bautista's regime in Cuba, alongside Che Guevara.
    • Castro become prime minister and then president of Cuba before stepping down as leader in 2006 and dying in 2016.
    • Castro was a Marxist-Leninist, Cuban Nationalist, and anti-imperialist.
    • Castro also supported Communism and self-determination in other countries, especially in South America and Africa.

    References

    1. R. Quirk, Fidel Castro, 1993.
    2. Fig. 1 Portrait of Fidel Castro (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cuba%27s_President_Fidel_Castro,_famous_Photograph.jpg) by Historianimus (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:Historianimus&action=edit&redlink=1) licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en) on Wikimedia Commons
    3. Fig. 2 Posters of Cuba 009 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Posters_of_Cuba_009.jpg) by Leon Petrosyan (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:GTheory) licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0 on Wikimedia Commons
    Frequently Asked Questions about Fidel Castro

    Who is Fidel Castro?

    Fidel Castro was the leader of the Cuban Revolution and the Socialist state that followed it. He was the longest standing ruler of a socialist state to date.

    Was Fidel Castro a Dictator?

    Yes. He was a dictator that wished to establish a communist state under his leadership.

    How did Fidel Castro come to power?

    Castro led a successful guerrilla war against the Cuban military to overthrow general Bautista, Cuba’s leader at the time. After defeating his army, he was voted into power as prime minister and later his office made him president until he stepped down.

    What did Fidel Castro do?

    He led the Cuban Revolution, lead Cuba to become a socialist state and ruled it for many years, involved himself in the Cold War during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and aided Third World Countries to achieve independence from more powerful countries through socialist revolution.

    What were Fidel Castro’s fights about?

    They were about opposing imperialism. Castro hated intervention from powerful nations, so he aided Latin American and African countries to diminish First-World nations’ influence over those territories. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who organised most of the assassination attempts survived by Fidel Castro?

    Fidel Castro overthrew which military dictator in the Cuban Revolution?

    Fidel Castro was a democratic leader throughout his leadership of Cuba. True or false?

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