Saint, idealist, rebel, leader, dictator. Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, or simply known as Fidel Castro, was a controversial man of many faces not just to Cubans, or Cuban-Americans, but to people around the world.
During his teens, his mentors and classmates found him to be a stubborn and deeply religious man, almost saintly. As a boy, he was sent to study at Colegio de Dolores in Santiago de Cuba with Jesuits, and when a priest fell down a stream during a hike it was Castro that pulled him to safety. Together, the two prayed fervently after surviving the ordeal.
In 1945, he joined the University of Havana‘s law school. It was there that Castro read Marxist literature, studied everything there was on Cuban politics and befriended Communist students. At this point in his life, he was simply a strong-willed, idealistic and open-minded man that wanted to fight against the oppression of the poor, but radical ideologies began to seep into his school of thought.
Castro’s father, Angel Castro, influenced him to fight for those in need. Angel, an impoverished Spaniard came to Cuba with nothing but dreams for a better life. In time, Angel Castro owned a plantation and became a landowner.
Castro became a lawyer for the poor once he obtained his degree. Since many of his clients had no money, they paid for his services with food.
It was the early 1950s when he started to struggle with the merits of democracy versus communism. Wanting to do more for those that were suffering, Castro ran for Congress only for the elections not to be upheld because of former dictator Fulgencio Batista returning to the country, taking over the government and destroying what was left of the democratic process in Cuba.
As a rebel with a cause, Castro made an appeal through the court system to take a stance against Colonel Batista’s violation of the Cuban Constitution. When that was unsuccessful, in 1953 Castro and almost 200 hundred followers attacked the military Moncada Barracks. His men were outnumbered 10 to 1 when they lost the element of surprise.
Unfortunately, this only led to Castro and what was left of his followers becoming political prisoners. This experience would go on to shape his future and that of Cuba’s for 50 years.
Believing that Castro and his men lost hope and would no longer be a threat, Batista released the surviving members of the Moncada Barracks attack after one year in 1954 so as not to come off as a dictator. This would prove to be a critical error.
Castro and his men were emboldened after their release. First, Castro retreated to Mexico, but then he came back to Cuba on an old yacht with the Argentine radical Che Guevara. With his power of speech and a group of 80, Castro initiated several guerrilla campaigns against Colonel Batista. By New Year’s Day of 1959, Batista fled Cuba.
Within a few months, Fidel Castro became the very thing he fought against, a Cuban dictator. Castro became paranoid after his coup and proceeded over the execution of 500 of Batista’s former officials.
In 1960, Cuba took over land that was owned by American and British landowners angering both superpowers in the process. This led to the Cuban embargo, in which the United States cut ties with the country. Castro turned to the Soviet Union for financial support.
As a dictator, he helped to increase sugar harvests in the country, attempted to bring about racial equality, and made social progress through medical advancements. However, the downside to his dictatorship was extreme poverty, political imprisonment and the loss of rights for citizens of Cuba, especially the middle class.
No matter what you consider Fidel Castro to be, idealist, rebel, or dictator, he was revolutionary and changed the course of history not only for Cuba but for all of Latin America, for good and bad.