Cuban statesman; prime minister (1959–76) and president (1976– ), who has evolved his own brand of Marxism and maintained a socialist government on the doorstep of the USA.
Born in Biran, the son of a sugar-planter, Castro was educated at a Jesuit school before studying law at the University of Havana. After graduating in 1950, he worked among the poor in Havana. In 1953 he led an unsuccessful revolt against the dictator, Batista (later known as the ‘26 July movement’), for which he was imprisoned. Released under a general amnesty in 1955, he went into exile to organize a further guerrilla campaign. A second unsuccessful revolt in 1956 drove him (along with twelve others) back into the mountains of Sierra Maestra.
Castro waged a guerrilla campaign against Batista for the next three years; finally, at the beginning of 1959, he forced Batista from power and became prime minister of a socialist government. Despite opposition from the USA, which imposed economic sanctions against Cuba (1960) and supported an invasion by Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs (1961), Castro remained in power. However, the antagonism of the USA forced Castro to become dependent on the Soviet Union, which led Khrushchev to instal missile bases on Cuban soil. PresidentKennedy called Khrushchev's bluff and for several days in 1962 the world trembled on the verge of nuclear war. After the resolution of the Cuban missile crisis, Fidel Castro became an international figure. In 1976, Castro passed a new constitution under which he became president, secretary-general of the Communist Party, and commander-in-chief of the army. His refusal to countenance any liberalizaton of Cuban society on the lines of communist nations in eastern Europe, together with his criticisms of the reforms introduced by Mikhail Gorbachov in the Soviet Union, resulted in Cuba's increased isolation from the international community during the late 1980s. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 this isolation has become economically very damaging to Cuba, obliging Castro to introduce limited free market reforms.
Subjects: History — Warfare and Defence.