The Cuban Revolution was an armed uprising led by Fidel Castro that ultimately overthrew the brutal dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The revolution began with a failed assault on Cuban military barracks on July 26, 1953, but by the end of 1958, Castro’s July 26 Movement guerrilla revolutionaries had gained the upper hand in Cuba, forcing Batista to flee. island on January 1. , 1959.
Before the Cuban revolution
After the Spanish-American War, the United States military administered the island directly until 1902, when Cuba became a republic, with sugar as the main commercial export. After a financial crisis and persistent government corruption, Gerardo Machado was elected President of Cuba in 1925, promising reform. Instead, Machado became Cuba’s first dictatorial ruler, until he was ousted in 1933 after a revolt led by Fulgencio Batista, a rising star in the Cuban military.
Various presidents came and went over the next two decades, but Batista remained a steadfast force. He himself was president from 1940 to 1944 and ran for a second term in 1952. Faced with defeat, he toppled the government in a bloodless coup and called off the elections.
Fidel Castro and the July 26 Movement
Castro, a young lawyer and activist, had run for Congress as part of the Cuban People’s Party before Batista took power. Seeking to arm a revolutionary opposition to the Batista regime, he raided the Moncada army barracks in the city of Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953. Most of the group were killed; Castro and his younger brother, Raúl, escaped but were later arrested and imprisoned.
Fidel Castro’s trial and imprisonment served to build his reputation as a revolutionary leader. After Batista bowed to international pressure and granted amnesty to many political prisoners in 1955, Castro traveled to Mexico, where he began to organize the Cuban exiles in a movement named after the date of the failed attack. from Moncada.
The Cuban revolution begins
In November 1956, 82 men representing the July 26 Movement left Mexico aboard the Granma, a small yacht. Batista’s forces learned of the attack in advance and ambushed the revolutionaries shortly after they landed in a remote area of eastern Cuba on December 2, 1956. Although most of the group had were killed, about 20 of them escaped, including Fidel and Raúl Castro. and one of Castro’s foreign recruits, the Argentine-born doctor Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Reaching the Sierra Maestra mountains, Castro’s group attracted new members and began a guerrilla campaign against the better armed and larger forces of Batista. For the next two years, Cuba lived in a virtual state of civil war, with rebel forces carrying out attacks on government facilities, sugar cane plantations and other sites as Batista’s regime cracked down on anyone suspected. to collaborate with Castro’s revolution.
The rebels take the advantage
In response to growing opposition, Batista suspended constitutional protections for Cubans, including freedom of speech and assembly. The following year, he called for the postponement of the scheduled presidential election, blaming the ongoing violence.
Believing that support for the revolution was waning, Batista called for a major military offensive against the rebels in the Sierra Maestra mountains in the summer of 1958. Instead, the rebels quickly turned around, forcing the army to withdraw. With the international media granting favorable media coverage to the revolutionaries, the United States began to withdraw support for the Batista government, which it had previously supported due to the dictator’s anti-Communist stance.
The Triumphs of Castro’s Revolution
In November 1958, the Cuban presidential election was held amid widespread fraud, with Batista’s chosen successor winning despite a more moderate candidate receiving more legitimate votes. As support for Batista continued to erode, the July 26 revolutionaries delivered the decisive blow at the end of December 1958, with Guevara’s forces defeating a much larger military garrison in the Battle of Santa Clara and capturing a train laden with vital weapons and ammunition.
On January 1, 1959, as rebel forces attacked Havana, Batista fled Cuba for the Dominican Republic; he then went to Portugal, where he remained in exile until his death in 1973.
Fidel Castro arrived in Havana on January 9 to take over a new provisional government, quickly consolidating control and bringing together Batista supporters, many of whom were tried and executed in revolutionary courts. Although Castro called for elections during the revolution, he postponed them indefinitely once he came to power.
US-Cuban relations break down
The United States was one of the first countries to recognize Castro’s government in Cuba, but relations between the two countries quickly deteriorated when Castro established a communist regime and forged close ties with the Union. Soviet, the American enemy during the Cold War. The United States severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in early 1961 and the following years were marked by escalating tensions, notably the Bay of Pigs invasion (April 1961) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962 ).
Despite a long-standing US trade embargo, widespread economic hardship, a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Cubans, and multiple efforts to implement regime change, Fidel Castro remained in power until 2008, when he officially resigned after handing over power to his brother. He passed away in 2016.
“Cuba marks 50 years since the ‘triumphal revolution’.” NPR, January 1, 2009.
Neil Faulkner, “The Cuban Revolution”. Military History Matters, January 10, 2019.
Cuban revolution. Encyclopedia Britannica.
Tony Perrott, Cuba Libre! Che, Fidel and the unlikely revolution that changed the history of the world (Blue Rider Press, 2019)