This Day in History

On this day in 1926, the revolutionary and controversial figure, Fidel Castro, was born in eastern Cuba. Fidel was the son of an affluent immigrant from Spain. His father grew his wealth by constructing railways that transported sugarcane around the island.

Fidel became interested in revolutionary politics during his time attending Catholic boarding schools in Santiago de Cuba. In 1947, he participated in a failed revolution attempt in the Dominican Republic. In 1948, he participated in city riots in Bogota, Colombia. During his youth, Castro held strong anti-American beliefs, but he had not fully adopted Marxist ideals.

Castro Ran for the Cuban House of Representatives

In 1951, Castro was a political candidate for a Cuban House of Representatives election, running under the Ortodoxo Party. However, before the election concluded, a Cuban General Fulgencio Batista seized power through a bloodless coup. In response, a number of groups formed against the new dictator. On July 26, 1953, Castro led an attack against Cuba's second largest military base, located in Santiago de Cuba. However, half of his 160 men were killed and Castro was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. During his trial, Castro tried to argue that he was merely trying to restore democracy to Cuba, but he was sentenced to prison, anyway.

In a stroke of luck, Batista decided to release all political prisoners two years later and grant them amnesty, even Castro. Castro then moved to Mexico with his brother, Raul, where they organized the 26th of July Movement and joined forces with Argentinian Ernesto "Che" Guevara and other recruits.

In 1956, Castro landed on the coast of Cuba with 81 armed men. Nearly all of them were captured or killed except for Guevara, the Castro brothers and nine others. Castro and the others escaped into the Sierra Maestra mountains, and from there they waged a guerrilla war against the now established Batista government. Castro received support from the Cuban peasantry while Batista received support from the United States government. However, in 1958 the United States stopped supporting Batista and more Cuban groups began to oppose him.

Batista's Regime Crumbles on Jan. 1, 1959

On Jan. 1, 1959, Batista eventually lost his struggle to remain in power and escaped to the Dominican Republic. Castro assumed control of Cuba's 30,000-man military with only 1,000 men left of his own. The following month, Castro became prime minister in his country's provisional government. Although U.S. leaders first recognized Castro's ascendency, they later rejected it when Castro began to pursue various Marxist policies and began to nationalize assets owned by U.S. citizens. The wealthiest Cubans left for the United States and began assisting the CIA to try and overthrow Castro's regime.

Castro would remain in power until he temporarily gave power to his brother Raul because of health concerns. In 2008, Castro permanently retired from his position as Prime Minister.