The Cuban Revolution, 1953 – 1959
Episode #8 of the course “Revolutions that changed the world”
Revolutions often last years and are met with bloody resistance. A few, however, are openly celebrated. The Cuban Revolution really began in 1952 when a former army sergeant, Fulgencio Batista, took power in an election. He was not really elected; instead, when he realized that he would lose the election, he took power before the elections could take place. Fidel Castro likely would have won a seat in Congress if the elections were allowed to go forward as planned. Outraged by Batista’s power grab, Castro immediately began planning Batista’s removal.
Castro’s positive image began with an attempted raid on an army barracks. The raid was a complete disaster, and Castro was captured and put on trial. At the trial, he turned the tables and argued that it was his civic duty to stand up to the dictatorship of Batista. He made long, passionate speeches that appealed to the Cubans. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but many poor Cubans regarded him as a hero. He was released about two years later and immediately gathered supporters together to plan the Cuban Revolution.
Batista tried to stomp out the supporters, but he could not root them out of the central highlands. Journalists from around the world were allowed to interview the rebels, and his movement gained even more support. Two small armies began an assault in 1958, and they captured small towns and villages on their journey. The village people greeted the rebels as liberators. Castro paused in every small town to give speeches to cheering crowds.
Batista fled the country on the morning of January 1, 1959, and on his heels about 800 of Castro’s supporters marched into Havana, having defeated an army of some 30,000.
What Cubans may or may not have realized at the time was that Castro was a Marxist-Leninist. He was successful in increasing literacy, improving public health care, and stamping out racism, but he is criticized for decreasing political and economic freedoms.
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