See The Spaniards: An Introduction to their History (1948; tr. 1971); selected essays (1977).
Widely hailed as a liberator, Castro proved to be a charismatic, though sometimes ruthless, leader. He proceeded to collectivize agriculture and to expropriate native and foreign industry. He instituted sweeping reforms in favor of the poor, disenfranchising the propertied classes, many of whom fled. In Dec., 1961, he declared himself to be a Marxist-Leninist and veered the revolution toward the Soviet Union and the socialist block. Tensions with the United States steadily grew. In 1961, the United States organized an invasion of Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs (see Bay of Pigs Invasion). A year later, the world came to the brink of nuclear war when the Soviet Union placed nuclear weapons capable of reaching the United States on the island (see Cuban Missile Crisis). The crisis was defused following negotiations between the superpowers and the removal of the missiles. For Castro, it was a humiliating, though temporary, defeat.
Castro's goal of extending the Cuban revolution to other Latin American countries suffered a setback with the capture and death (1967) of "Che" Guevara in Bolivia. Yet pro-Castro groups appeared throughout the region, and the Sandinista revolution triumphed in Nicaragua in 1979. From 1975 to 1989, he also sent troops to support the socialist government of Angola. In 1980, Castro opened the port of Mariél and encouraged dissidents to leave. Tens of thousands of Cubans left for the U.S. mainland on makeshift rafts and boats; most were granted political asylum by the United States.
Although Castro maintained political independence from the Soviet Union, the Cuban economy came to depend on billions of dollars in Soviet aid. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba entered a crisis period. Popular unrest grew in the face of extreme austerity measures. In desperate need of foreign capital, the regime opened Cuba somewhat to foreign investment and promoted tourism, while clamping down on dissent. In mid-2006, Castro underwent surgery and stepped aside as president temporarily; his brother Raúl Castro became acting president. Castro did not resume his presidential duties before the next election, and in 2008 he declined to stand for reelection. He retained his post as leader of the Cuban Communist party, however, and remains extremely influential in the Cuban government. Although his prestige has diminished, Castro remains a symbol of social justice and revolutionary progress for many Cubans.
See M. Llerena, The Unsuspected Revolution: The Birth and Rise of Castroism (1978); P. Bourne, Fidel (1986); T. Szulc, Fidel: A Critical Portrait (1986); A. Oppenheimer, Castro's Final Hour (1992).
(born Aug. 13, 1926, near Birán, Cuba) Political leader of Cuba (from 1959). Son of a prosperous sugar planter, he became a lawyer and worked on behalf of the poor in Havana. He was a candidate for Cuba's legislature when Gen. Fulgencio Batista overthrew the government in 1952. He organized a rebellion against Batista in 1953, but it failed; captured, he served time in prison and then went to Mexico, where he and others, including Che Guevara, continued to plot Batista's overthrow. Castro led an armed expedition back to Cuba in 1956; most of his men were killed, but a dozen survivors took refuge in the mountains, where they gradually managed to organize guerrillas throughout the island. In 1959 Batista was forced to flee the country. Castro nationalized private commerce and industry and expropriated U.S.-owned land and businesses, vastly expanded health services and eliminated illiteracy, and ruthlessly suppressed opposition, outlawing all political groups but the Communist Party. The U.S. attempted to bring about his overthrow and failed (see Bay of Pigs invasion), precipitating the Cuban missile crisis. Castro exercised total control of the government and economy, which was increasingly dependent on subsidies from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union's collapse (1991) devastated Cuba's economy, and Castro attempted to replace its former revenues through tourism. In 1998 Castro allowed Pope John Paul II to visit Cuba for the first time. Castro strengthened his relationship with Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chávez in the early 21st century with an initiative through which Cuba provided health care professionals to Venezuela in exchange for discounted oil. In July 2006 Castro passed power on a provisional basis to his brother Raúl while he recovered from surgery. Fidel Castro officially stepped down as president of Cuba in 2008, ending his 49 years in power.
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