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Fidel Castro: 1927—: President

Instigated Revolution

In July of 1955, Castro and a small number of followers regrouped in Mexico. They called themselves the 26th of July Movement in memory of the attack on the Moncada barracks. In November of 1955, Castro met Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a doctor who enrolled in his army. When the small rebel force returned to Cuba aboard the yacht, Granma, they were attacked and a third of their forces decimated. The remaining rebels reassembled in the Sierra Maestra, located in the southern most part of Cuba. Within six months, Castro had won over the local peasants with promises of land reform; within a year, the 26th of July Movement controlled the Sierra Maestra region. "For two years, he and his small band stayed in the rough mountains of the Sierra Maestra," wrote Georgie Anne Geyer in World and I, "hiding from the army, engaging in occasional ambushes, but above all writing with their lives the new mythology of the Cuban revolution."

The revolution began in earnest when Castro called a strike over the radio on April 9, 1958 and many dissidents were killed in the street. In May Batista launched a major attack on Sierra Maestra. Thomas wrote, "For weeks it was impossible to know what was going on." While the rebels were greatly outnumbered, ill-trained government troops suffered a series of defeats. This pattern continued throughout 1958, climaxing when Guevara attacked a government train column in December and achieved a decisive victory. On New Years, Batista fled Cuba to the Dominican Republic. A general strike was called to show support for the rebels and the Cuban army surrendered. Castro arrived in the capital on January 8, 1959.

Cubans were excited about the revolution, but also anxious because of their new leader's lack of political experience. 1,500 laws were passed during the first year, increasing pay, decreasing rents, and forming state farms that offered steady employment. The Agrarian Reform Act confiscated land from anyone with an estate over 1,000 acres. Bourne noted, "In the eyes of the masses, the revolution had already led to the redistribution of some land, a reduction in the cost of essential services, the elimination of corruption, and the promise for the first time of education, health care, and steady employment." A massive literacy campaign sent 250,000 volunteers into rural areas, eventually achieving a 94 percent rate. Hundreds of medical clinics and hospitals were built in the countryside, raising the average Cuban life expectancy to 76 years. Schools and universities were erected, and postgraduate education was free.

Other actions were controversial. Revolutionary tribunals sent political enemies to firing squads and elections were suspended. Castro nationalized oil refineries, sugar mills, and utilities, most belonging to American companies. In retaliation, the United States canceled sugar purchases completely in October of 1960 and prohibited all exports to Cuba except food and medical supplies. Eisenhower recalled the United States' Cuban ambassador in January of 1961 and suspended diplomatic relations.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Katie Burke (1953–) Biography - Personal to Galeazzo Ciano (1903–1944) BiographyFidel Castro: 1927—: President Biography - Born Into Privilege, Rejected Batista's Dictatorship, Instigated Revolution, Clashed With United States