A committed Marxist, Dr. Fidel Castro has been Prime Minister of Cuba since he overthrew?
A committed Marxist, Dr. Fidel Castro has been Prime Minister of Cuba since he overthrew the dictatorship of President Batista in 1959. He was then aged only 31, the youngest leader the country had ever known. He has aligned Cuba with the Soviet Union and has declared his support for revolutionaries throughout Latin America.
Although opposed by a growing band of Cuban exiles and having offered to resign as recently as July, 1970, he has the overwhelming support of the masses in his homeland.
He was born Fidel Castro Ruz on August 13, 1927, in the Oriente Province of Cuba. Both his parents came from the upper-classes, his father being a wealthy sugar planter.
Castro began his education at Jesuit institutions and then entered the University of Havana to study social sciences, civil law, diplomacy and public administration. He became a lawyer and gained a reputation as a defender of the poor before entering politics as a Parliamentary candidate for the Cuban People's Party.
When the elections were cancelled by General Batista's coup d'etat in 1952, Dr. Castro resorted to clandestine activities. he formed a band of young rebels who tried unsuccessfully to provoke an uprising in 1953. As a result he and his brother Raoul were sent to a penitentiary for 15 years. They had served only two years when a political amnesty freed them in 1955.
A second assault on the Batista regime came in 1956 when Castro sailed from Mexico for Cuba with 80 armed men. They were crushed by government troops but 12 survivors, including the Castro brothers, fled to the jungle-covered Sierra Maestra and established the headquarters of what they called the "26th July Movement" in memory of those killed in 1953.
In January, 1959, a full-scale clash between the rebels -- by then a guerrilla force of several thousand -- and the government troops ended in complete victory for Dr. Castro when President Batista hurriedly escaped to the Dominican Republic.
In 1961, about 1,400 Cuban exiles failed completely in an attempt invasion of Cuba at the Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). Dr. Castro personally led his forces against the invaders.
Cuba became the centre of a major East-West confrontation in 1962. The island was blockaded by the United States which demanded the withdrawal of Soviet rockets detected on Cuban soil. The fate of world peace hung in the balance, but the Soviet Union eventually agreed to remove the missiles and the threat of nuclear war subsided. Some months after the Cuban crisis ended Dr. Castro travelled to Moscow and was made a Hero of the Soviet Union.
But all was not happy at home. The economic blockade of Cuba by other Latin-American countries and the United States, combined with shortages in the shops and occasional failures in the sugar harvest on which the island depended, led to growing dissatisfaction. The band of exiles from the Castro regime grew. Among them was Dr. Castro's sister Juana. She had supported him in his fight for power but after seeking asylum in the United States she claimed he had become a tyrant.
Under an agreement with the United States, Dr. Castro announced an "open door" for people wishing to leave. By August, 1966, more than 30,000 Cubans had arrived in Florida and other parts of America.
But Dr. Castro was firmly in command and he extended his ambitions to South American, supporting revolutionary movements in many countries. He released one of his chief lieutenants, Argentine-born "Che" Guevara, for this work. "Che" was killed in Bolivia on October 9, 1967, after a seven-month guerrilla campaign. Despite this setback, Dr. Castro continued to support "anti-imperialist" revolutionaries in Latin America. In April this year, during a speech to mark the centenary of Lenin's birth, he pledged co-operation with all those engaged in this battle.
Over the years there have been frequent reports that the Cuban leader was seriously ill. Official spokesmen have scored these "rumours" and pointed to Dr. Castro's vigour as he indulged in such active pastimes as cutting sugar-cane or went on strenuous exercises with the Army.
On July 26 this year he surprised his supporters by offering to resign. In a sombre speech he blamed his own inefficiencies for setbacks to Cuba's industry and economy and forecast hardship for all Cubans.
Despite the grim warnings and offer of replacement, the crowd of 200,000 responded with prolonged applause. Dr. Castro again proved that he still had the support of Cuba's masses.