Fulgencio Batista

Fulgencio Batista

Fulgencio Batista, the son of a labourer, was born in Cuba in 1901. He joined the army and as a sergeant-major took part in the successful army coup against President Machado.

In 1952 elections the Cuban People's Party was expected to form the new government. During the election campaign General Batista, with the support of the armed forces, ousted President Carlos Prio and took control of the country.

In 1953, Fidel Castro, with an armed group of 123 men and women, attacked the Moncada army barracks. The plan to overthrow Batista ended in disaster and although only eight were killed in the fighting, another eighty were murdered by the army after they were captured. Castro was lucky that the lieutenant who arrested him ignored orders to have him executed and instead delivered him to the nearest civilian prison.

Following considerable pressure from the Cuban population, Batista decided to release Castro after he had served only two years of his sentence. Batista also promised elections but when it became clear that they would not take place, Castro left for Mexico where he began to plan another attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.

After building up a stock of guns and ammunition, Castro and eighty of his followers returned to Cuba in 1956. This

group became known as the July 26 Movement (the date that Castro had attacked the Moncada barracks). Their plan was to set up their base in the Sierra Maestra mountains. On the way to the mountains they were attacked by government troops. By the time they reached the Sierra Maestra there were only sixteen men left with twelve weapons between them. For the next few months Castro's guerrilla army raided isolated army garrisons and were gradually able to build-up their stock of weapons.

When the guerrillas took control of territory they redistributed the land amongst the peasants. In return, the peasants helped the guerrillas against Batista's soldiers. In some cases the peasants also joined Castro's army, as did students from the cities and occasionally Catholic priests.

In an effort to find out information about Castro's army people were pulled in for questioning. Many innocent people

were tortured. Suspects, including children, were publicly executed and then left hanging in the streets for several days as a warning to others who were considering joining Castro. The behaviour of Batista's forces increased support for the guerrillas. In 1958 forty-five organizations signed an open letter supporting the July 26 Movement. National bodies representing lawyers, architects, dentists, accountants and social workers were amongst those who signed. Castro, who had originally relied on the support of the poor, was now gaining the backing of the influential middle classes.

Batista responded to this by sending more troops to the Sierra Maestra. He now had 10,000 men hunting for Castro and his 300-strong army. Although outnumbered, Castro's guerrillas were able to inflict defeat after defeat on the government's troops. In the summer of 1958 over a thousand of Batista's soldiers were killed or wounded and many more were captured. Unlike Batista's soldiers, Castro's troops had developed a reputation for behaving well towards prisoners. This encouraged Batista's troops to surrender to Castro when things went badly in battle. Complete military units began to join the guerrillas.

The United States supplied Batista with planes, ships and tanks, but the advantage of using the latest technology such as napalm failed to win them victory against the guerrillas. In March 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower, disillusioned with Batista's performance, suggested he held elections. This he did, but the people showed their dissatisfaction with his government by refusing to vote. Over 75 per cent of the voters in the capital Havana boycotted the polls. In some areas, such as Santiago, it was as high as 98 per cent.

Castro was now confident he could beat Batista in a head-on battle. Leaving the Sierra Maestra mountains, Castro's troops began to march on the main towns. After consultations with the United States government, Batista decided to flee the country.

Fulgencio Batista lived in the Dominican Republic until 1973.

Primary Sources

(1) In 1977 the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party produced a book on the history of Cuba.

US investment in Cuba, totalling 50 million dollars in 1896, went up to 160 million in 1906, to 205 million in 1911, and 1.2 billion in 1923, which included the ownership of three-quarters of the sugar industry. The corrupt governments and the repeated Yankee interventions in the first few decades of the neo-colonialised republic did their job of handing over the country's wealth to foreign masters.

(2) David Detzer, an American journalist, visited Cuba in the 1950s.

Brothels flourished. A major industry grew up around them: Government officials received bribes, policemen collected protection money. Prostitutes could be seen standing in doorways, strolling the streets, or leaning from windows... One report estimated that 11,500 of them worked their trade in Havana... Beyond the outskirts of the capital, beyond the slot machines, was one of the poorest - and most beautiful - countries in the Western world.

(3) Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas made a speech in Congress on United States policy in Latin America.

Most Latin Americans have seen their neighbour to the north (the United States) growing richer; they have seen the elite elements in their own societies growing richer - but the man in the street or on the land in Latin America today still lives the hand-to-mouth existence of his great, great grandfather... They are less and less happy with situations in which, to cite one example, 40 per cent of the land is owned by 1 per cent of the people, and in which, typically, a very thin upper crust lives in grandeur while most others live in squalor.

(4) Arthur Schlesinger, was asked by the United States government to write a report on Batista's Cuba.

The corruption of the Government, the brutality of the police, the regime's indifference to the needs of the people for education, medical care, housing, for social justice and economic justice... is an open invitation to revolution.

(5) Chauncey Holt was interviewed by John Craig, Phillip Rogers and Gary Shaw for Newsweek magazine (19th October, 1991)

We went to Cuba many times. At that point in time Carlos Prio was President of Cuba and Batista was in exile. It was Lanksy who was instrumental in getting Prio to allow Batista back into the country. He came back into the country and one day he just walked into the Presidential Palace apparently, and made Prio an offer he couldn't refuse... Batista was always in Lansky's pocket. So we were back and forth there in regards to the casinos.

Later on, when Castro started kicking up a force, and of course after he had landed there in the Escambay Mountains, Lansky, to hedge his bet, began offering assistance to Castro in the form of money and arms that were flying in. So although he was a very close friend of Batista, he was still assisting Castro. Around that time flying arms to Castro was no problem. The State Department didn't bother you at all. They just tolerated it.