Fidel Castro: Profile
Fidel Castro was born into a landed family in Cuba in 1926, and was educated at Jesuit schools, including the Colegio Belen in Havana. He attended law school at the University of Havana, graduating in 1950. He practiced law for two years and planned to run for a seat in Cuba’s parliament in 1952, but the overthrow of the corrupt government of Carlos Prio Sacarras by Fulgencio Batista forced a cancellation of elections.
Castro attempted to indict Batista for usurping the constitution, but his petition was denied. Frustrated by a lack of legal or political recourse for his grievances, Castro turned to violence, leading an assault on the Mancada Barracks on July 26, 1953. Eighty men were killed, and Castro himself was taken prisoner shortly thereafter. At his trial, he made his now-famous “History will absolve me” speech, in which he combined an indictment of the Batista dictatorship with the first public statement of his revolutionary platform, the “five revolutionary laws.”
By the first of these laws, Castro would have returned the country to its 1940 Constitution; somewhat contradictorily, however, he would have had his revolutionary movement take over all powers of government, except that of writing a new constitution. Castro also claimed that he would have: redistributed the land, indemnifying the original owners with 10 years’ rental income; allowed the industrial workers a 30% share of their industries’ profits; allowed sugar farmers 55% of sugar production; and confiscated the property of anyone holding it illegally. The speech did honestly outline the general tenor of Castro’s revolutionary thinking, although it did not suggest the extremity to which it would be carried.
Convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison for his role in the 1953 uprising, Castro served only two years. He left Cuba in voluntary exile, spending time in the U.S. and in Mexico, before returning to Cuba in 1956 at the head of a small band of rebels calling themselves the 26th of July Movement. Defeated in several early battles, Castro’s movement attracted followers from those disgusted by the Batista government. In 1958, Batista launched an attack against Castro with seventeen battalions, but Castro gained several victories, aided by the desertions in Batista’s forces. Batista was forced to flee the country on New Year’s Day 1959, and Castro became prime minister of Cuba in February.
At this point Castro did not identify himself as a communist or Marxist, although there is substantial evidence that he was and concealed his true agendas for tactical reasons. In 1959, he told U.S. News and World Report that he had no intention of nationalizing industries. He immediately reneged on that claim by expropriating property from U.S.- based corporations operating in Cuba; his true sympathies were confirmed when he began putting discredited Communists (the Party had supported Batista) into positions of power in the revolutionary government. In 1960 he tried Huber Matos, one of the four leaders of the revolution, in secret and sentenced him to 22 years in solitary confinement for complaining about the appointment of Communists to the regime. In 1960 he also began buying oil from the Kremlin. When American-owned refineries refused to process the oil, Castro confiscated them as well, leading to a break in diplomatic relations with the United States. Cuba then negotiated massive assistance packages from Khrushchev and the Soviet Union. An attempt by Cuban exiles to invade Cuba was defeated at the Bay of Pigs. Later that year, in a May Day speech, Castro declared Cuba to be a Socialist nation.
Khrushchev decided in 1962 to place nuclear weapons in Cuba;
when American spy planes discovered the weapons installations being built, President
Kennedy announced a blockade of Cuba. Castro lobbied the Russians to launch
their nuclear missiles against the United States. Tensions were eventually
relieved when Khrushchev agreed to remove nuclear weapons from Cuba, if the
U.S. agreed not to invade Cuba and to remove missiles from Turkey.
Castro has been guilty of the systematic repression of religion in Cuba, making adjustments to his policy of suppression and extermination only when it was clear that the Soviet aid on which he had propped his regime was going to fail him. Although in his revolutionary period, Castro was aided by members of the Church, including Archbishop Perez Sarantes of Santiago de Cuba, Castro turned on the Church almost immediately after his accession. In August 1960, Castro-controlled gangs attacked worshippers leaving Mass. By April 1961, Castro had suspended all Church broadcasting and publishing and mobs had looted Churches across Cuba, leaving Cardinal Arteaga of Havana to seek refuge in the Argentine embassy. In June, Castro confiscated Church property and closed the Catholic school system, as well as other private and parochial educational institutions. Practicing Catholics were forbidden to join the Communist Party, effectively keeping them from all but the most menial jobs. The restriction was not lifted until 1992.
At the start of the revolution, Cuba had 700 priests and 5,000 nuns serving the faithful. By 1965, fewer than 200 priests and a few hundred nuns remained. In November 1965, Castro referred to the remaining priests and nuns as “social scum” and sentenced many to concentration camps, along with artists who refused to toe the revolutionary line, homosexuals, and others “unfit for revolution.” The few priests were forced to embrace the revolution at all costs.
Castro has been no easier on other religions, tolerating them only insofar as they are useful to him. Protestant churches were persecuted during the early years of Castro’s regime but, since they were not as closely identified with Batista’s rule and they were more sympathetic to the revolution, Castro has allegedly endured their presence better. However, in 1994, he expelled many religion-based charity organizations from the island. He has also taken action against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Pentecostal groups that have dared to point out the deteriorating situation in Cuba.
Castro has institutionalized racism in the country, preferring the lighter-skinned Cubans of Spanish descent over those with black African lineage. Racism has been suggested as one of many elements in Castro’s dislike of Batista, who had significant black ancestry. Moreover, Castro has routinely attacked and imprisoned homosexuals.
Castro’s human rights violations are legion; starting in 1965 he developed his system of concentration camps, the UMAP, in remote areas of Cameguey province. At one point, his gulag held at least 100,000 prisoners, many of whom were subjected to rape, flogging, and torture of many varieties. At least 5,000 died in the camps. It is estimated that some 18,000 political prisoners have been killed in Cuba since Castro came to power. This would be the equivalent in US terms of more than 500,000 political executions, based on the relative populations of the two countries.
Moreover, the government continues to censor the press; a 2003 round-up of journalists, librarians, and human rights activists led to show-trials in which 78 people were sentenced to a combined 1,400 years in prison for sedition. Castro’s regime also forbids the existence of opposition political parties, unions, and free elections. At least 25,000 Cubans have managed to successfully escape from the island under Castro’s oppressive regime; given the estimate that 3 in the 4 have died in the attempt to leave, Castro’s regime can be blamed for an additional 75,000 deaths.
Castro has become one of the principal supporters and exporters of terror and revolution in the world. His government has sent military aid in the form of troops or advisors all over the globe, becoming, in effect, the contract surrogates of the USSR: Cuban military fought in Namibia, the Congo, Algeria, Syria, and Viet Nam, as well as in numerous countries and conflicts in the Western Hemisphere. The definitive statement of Castro on the exportation of violence by his regime was made at the Tricentennial Solidarity Conference of 1965, in which Castro promised aid of any type from Cuba to any country fighting against “imperialism,” by which he meant the United States and its allies. He also pledged to disregard constitutional means in effecting his revolution, since he viewed constitutionality as a means of control by the bourgeoisie and landed gentry.
Castro was as good as his word. In Nicaragua, Cuban military assistance brought the Sandinistas to power, and Castro’s Cuban infiltration forces helped bring about the war in El Salvador. Failed efforts at exporting the revolution to Guatemala, Bolivia, and Venezuela merely increased levels of violence and made the lives of the revolution’s supposed beneficiaries miserable. Castro sent troops to Angola to engage in a protracted battle in which he claimed victory but accomplished nothing; South Africa, with the covert support of many black regimes and the open support of the United States, kept the combined forces of Cuba, Angolan revolutionaries, Soviets, and East Germans at bay for years until the United Nations gave Cuba a face-saving opportunity to withdraw. More dangerously, Castro supplied arms to the African National Congress in South Africa in the struggles against apartheid. The criminal activities of the ANC before and after the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa are well-documented.
In 1989, Castro was responsible for an attack on the Argentine military barracks at La Tablada, which killed 39 people. It was Castro who trained and financed the guerrilla group which mounted that attack, the All for the Fatherland Movement. Former Cuban intelligence operative Jorge Masetti, who now lives in France, has testified that many of the guerrilla groups that have carried out assassinations and massacres throughout Latin America have done so at Castro’s behest. The Colombian guerrilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), for instance, derives its ideology, training and direction from Cuba.
Castro has provided military and technical assistance to the
terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization and established military ties with
Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen. In 1974,
Castro organized the America Department, responsible for coordinating all
terrorist activities sponsored by the country.
The CIA has estimated that 300 Palestinian terrorists were trained in
Cuba, as was Carlos the Jackal, agent of numerous terrorist attacks in
Europe. Cuba also supported Puerto
Rican insurgents as well as Black Panther operatives; some Black Panthers were
trained in Cuba, others in Canada, by Cuban military personnel. Assata Shakur, wanted for the 1973 murder of
a New Jersey State Trooper, is just one of 90 terrorists and murderers who have
found refuge in Castro’s Cuba.
In recent years, Castro has aligned himself with ETA, the Basque separatist movement; supported Hezbollah, the IRA, and Colombia’s two largest terrorist organizations; and allegedly sent Cuban spies to Florida with instructions to locate areas in south Florida to which Castro could ship arms, supplies, and troops. The French press reported that on a 2001 trip to Iran, Castro claimed that the U.S. was now weak enough that the Cubans and Iranians could topple the government, although the remark has been questioned in some sources because the Iranian Press Service and the BBC did not report it. The Iranian Press Service did, however, quote Castro as saying, “Iran and Cuba reached the conclusion that together they can tear down the United States.”