Fidel Castro Ruz: Revolutionary Soldier

At the age of three, in his home at Birán.
At the age of three, in his home at Birán.

Fidel Castro Ruz was born on August 13, 1926 at Birán, in the former Cuban province of Oriente.  His father Ángel Castro Argiz, son of poor peasants from Galicia (Spain), owned land and was a sugarcane tenant farmer. His mother, Lina Ruz González, was from a peasant family in Pinar del Río Province. He learned to read and write at Birán’s rural public school and continued his primary education in the De La Salle and Dolores private Catholic schools in the city of Santiago de Cuba.  He started high school at the same Dolores College and graduated in Arts and Letters from the Jesuit-run Colegio de Belén in Havana, in June 1945.

The Jesuits in Belén wrote:  “Fidel Castro always excelled in all the subjects that were related to arts and letters…He was a true athlete, earning admiration and affection from all.  He shall be entering Law and we have no doubts that he shall be writing brilliant entries in the volume of his life.  Fidel is highly capable and has the soul of an artist.”

In September 1945, he enrolled in Law and Social Sciences and Diplomatic Law at the University of Havana.  There he became involved in the political struggles deep in the heart of the student body of the university and he held several positions in the University Students’ Federation.  He was an outstanding member of various progressive and anti-imperialist student organizations, such as the Committee for the Independence of Puerto Rico, the September 30 Committee (of which he was the founder) and the Pro-Democracy for the Dominican Republic Committee of which he was the president.

As part of his political activism during those years, he organized and participated in many protests and denunciations against the country’s political and social situation.  On several occasions, he was beaten or imprisoned by the forces of repression.

During the Bogotazo. Fidel is the first one on the left.
During the Bogotazo. Fidel is the first one on the left.

Between July and September of 1947, while a third-year student, he enrolled in the expeditionary contingent that was organized to fight against the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.  The expedition underwent training at Cayo Confites. He was promoted to lieutenant, squadron leader, and later, to battalion company leader.  The expedition set out by sea and was intercepted by a Cuban Navy frigate.  Fidel dove into the water with his weapon in order not to be captured.  He considered it shameful that the expedition should be aborted before the fight.

He came into contact with Marxist thought while he was a university student.

Sympathizing with the Partido del Pueblo Cubano (Ortodoxo), of progressive tendency, from 1948 he actively participated in that Party’s political campaigns, especially in that of its principal leader, Eduardo R. Chibás.  Within his political organization, among the youth militants, he worked at cultivating the most radical and combative positions.  After the death of Chibás, he worked doubly hard to unmask the corruption of the Carlos Prío government.

After participating in the expedition against Trujillo, he travelled in 1948 to Venezuela, Panama and Colombia as student leader, having as his goal the organization of the Latin American Congress of Students which was to take place in Colombia.  He was in Bogota when the populist rebellion broke out, instigated by the assassination of the Colombian leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in April of that year.  He resolutely joined up with that struggle: by pure luck, he was able to survive.

In March 1949, he headed a protest in front of the United States Diplomatic Mission in Havana to express the people’s indignation at the disrespectful behaviour of US Marines at the monument to José Martí, Cuba’s National Hero. 

Fidel graduated as Doctor of Civil Law with a degree in Diplomatic Law in 1950.  From his law offices he dedicated himself basically to defending the poor and the humble sectors of society.

When the Fulgencio Batista coup d’état takes place on March 10, 1952, he was among the first to denounce the reactionary nature and illegitimacy of the de facto regime and to demand its overthrow.

This is one of the first photos of Fidel after the attack on the Moncada Barracks, taken at the Vivac in Santiago de Cuba.  The picture is the property of Ernesto Ocaña, photographer for the Diario de Cuba.
This is one of the first photos of Fidel
after the attack on the Moncada Barracks,
taken at the Vivac in Santiago de Cuba.
The picture is the property of
Ernesto Ocaña, photographer for the Diario de Cuba.

He organized and trained a large contingent of more than a thousand young workers, public employees and students who basically came out of the rank and file of the Orthodox Party.  On July 26, 1956, together with 160 of them, he commanded an attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba and on the barracks in Bayamo, an action that was conceived as the detonator for the armed struggle against the Batista regime.

When the element of surprise failed, they were unable to achieve their goal.  He was captured by the tyranny’s forces of repression a few days after the military defeat and held incommunicado for 76 days.  Later he was put on trial and condemned to 15 years in prison.  In a private and closely guarded location, he presented his self-defence before the court that condemned him and delivered the speech known as “History Will Absolve Me” in which he sketched out the programme for the future Cuban Revolution. 

“But no weaponry, no violence can vanquish the people once they are determined to win back their rights.  Both past and present are full of examples. The most recent is the revolt in Bolivia, where miners with dynamite sticks smashed and defeated regular army regiments,” he stated on that occasion.

From prison he continued his work to denounce the oppressive regime, at the same time as his revolutionary plans matured and he was strengthening the theoretical and ideological preparation of his comrades.

As a result of strong pressure and peoples’ campaigns, he was released in May of 1955.  In following weeks, he carried out an intense programme of agitation and denunciations, and the July 26th Movement was founded to continue the revolutionary struggle.

In July 1955, after it was demonstrated that it was impossible to continue the struggle against Batista using legal channels, Fidel left for Mexico to organize the armed uprising from exile.  Beset by shaky economic conditions and under close surveillance, and persecuted by Batista’s agents, he mounted a supreme organizational and preparatory effort while pressing on with an intense campaign of publicising the ideas and purposes of the insurrectional movement.  He travelled to the United States where, with his exiled compatriots, he created “patriotic clubs” in order to achieve political and financial support for the revolutionary struggle.  He went to Philadelphia, New York, Tampa, Union City, Bridgeport and Miami.

With  the motto of “In 1956, we shall either be free or martyred”, Fidel, Raúl, Juan Manuel Márquez, Ernesto Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and other outstanding revolutionaries were undergoing training sessions by taking long walks through Mexico City, scaling mountains, learning personal defence and guerrilla tactics and practicing marksmanship.

On June 20, 1956, the leader of the July 26th Movement, Che and other combatants were arrested, the “house encampments” were discovered and an important part of the cache of weapons was confiscated. 

After their release from Mexican police stations, the revolutionary conspiracy picked up speed.  The yacht “Granma" was purchased, and with 82 combatants onboard, having an average age of 27 years, they set sail for Cuba in the dawn of November 25, 1956, from the Tuxpan River.

In the Sierra Maestra. The photo was published in the February 17, 1957 edition of the American newspaper The New York Times which also ran an interview the journalist Herbert Matthews did with Fidel.
In the Sierra Maestra. The photo was
published in the February 17, 1957
edition of the American newspaper
The New York Times which also
ran an interview the journalist
Herbert Matthews did with Fidel.

After sailing for 7 days, they landed on December 2 at Las Coloradas on the south-western coast of the former province of Oriente.  Batista’s troops succeeded in locating the landing spot and harassed the expeditionaries.  On December 5th, the army of the tyranny surprised Fidel and his men at Alegría de Pío.  The revolutionary forces were decimated, several are captured during the pursuit and many are killed in the act.

With the valuable collaboration of peasants, Fidel meets up with Raúl at Cinco Palmas and regroups the revolutionary troops.  He leaves for the Sierra Maestra to carry on the revolutionary struggle from there.

On January 17, 1957, he commands the first armed action against the Batista army at the La Plata Barracks and celebrates his first victory.  The Rebel Army begins to grow and gain in strength.

As Commander in Chief, he leads the military action and revolutionary struggle of the rebel forces and the July 26th Movement during 25 months of warfare.  The “José Martí” Column One was under his personal command and he participated in person in almost all of its operations, combats and most important battles that took place during the war in the territory of First Rebel Front.

After the elite troops of the tyranny were resoundingly defeated, through their principal commanders they decided to acknowledge the rebel victory in the very theatre of operations in the province of Oriente, on December 28th.  As January 1st, 1959 dawned, Fidel, with a general revolutionary strike that was supported by all workers, faced the coup d’état that had been promoted by the US government in the capital of the Republic.  On that same day, he made his victorious entry into Santiago de Cuba and then arrived in Havana on January 8th.

When the insurrectional struggle ended, he kept his position as Commander in Chief.  On February 13, 1959 he was appointed Prime Minister of the Revolutionary Government.

He led and participated in all the actions for the defence of the country and the Revolution in the cases of military aggression coming from abroad or activities of counter-revolutionary groups, especially the invasion organized by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency carried out through the bay of Pigs in April 1961.

He led the Cuban people through the dramatic days of the October Crisis of 1962.

Fidel at a ceremony in El Cacahual on December 7, 1961.  The photo was taken by Liborio Noval.
Fidel at a ceremony in
El Cacahual on December 17, 1961.
The photo was taken by Liborio Noval.

On behalf of the Revolutionary power, he proclaimed the Socialist nature of the Cuban Revolution on April 16, 1961.

He held the position of Secretary General of the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations, and later, Secretary General of the United Party of the Socialist Revolution of Cuba.  From the Constitution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba in October 1965, his position was that of First Secretary and Member of the Politburo, ratified by the five Party Congresses that have since taken place. 

He had been elected Deputy to the National Assembly of the Peoples’ Power, representing the municipality of Santiago de Cuba, during its successive periods of sessions since its creation in 1976, and from then until 2008, he has held the positions of President of the Council of State and President of the Council of Ministers.

He has presided official Cuban missions to more than 50 countries.

He has received more than a hundred foreign and Cuban high level medals, as well as many honorary academic awards from higher education institutions in Cuba, Latin America and Europe.

He strategically commanded the participation of hundreds of thousands of Cuban combatants on internationalist missions in Algeria, Syria, Angola, Ethiopia and other countries, and he has promoted and organized the contribution of tens of thousands of Cuban medical doctors, teachers and technicians who have been providing their services in more than 40 Third World countries, as well as the carrying out of courses in Cuba for tens of thousands of students from those countries.  More recently, he has promoted the Cuban comprehensive assistance and collaboration programmes in the area of health in the countries of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the creation of international schools in Cuba for the medical sciences, sports and physical education and other disciplines for Third World students.

On a world-wide scale, he has promoted the Third World battle against the current international economic world order, particularly against the foreign debt, wasting resources as a result of military spending and neo-liberal globalization, as well as efforts for unity and the integration of Latin America and the Caribbean.

He has been at the head of the Cuban peoples’ decisive action to confront the effects of the economic blockade imposed upon Cuba by the United States for more than forty years and the economical consequences of the downfall of the European Socialist community, and he has promoted the tenacious effort of Cubans to overcome the serious difficulties resulting from these factors, their resistance during the so-called Special Period and the country’s rebirth of growth and economical development

During an appearance on the Mesa Redonda TV programme on Cuban television.
During an appearance on the Mesa Redonda TV
program on Cuban television

Throughout the history of the Revolution, he has promoted and led the struggle of the Cuban people for the consolidation of the revolutionary process, its advance towards socialism, unity of all revolutionary forces and of all the people, the country’s economic and social transformations, the development of health, education, sports, culture and science, defence,  facing external aggression, conducting an active foreign policy of principles, actions of solidarity with peoples fighting for independence and progress, and the strengthening of the peoples’ revolutionary, internationalist and Communist conscience.

Having relinquished his official duties because of health reasons, today he has taken up the pen.  Thanks to his moral authority, he exerts an influence over the important and strategic decisions of the Revolution.