Fulgencio Batista was the Cuban right-wing dictator overthrown by communists led by Fidel Castro. Despite support for Batista from America during his rule, nothing was done by the superpower to stop his fall from power.
Batista was born on January 16th 1901 in Oriente province in Cuba. His parents worked on a sugar plantation. Batista joined the army in 1921 and held the rank of sergeant when he joined in a military coup against the liberal President Machado – known as the ‘Revolt of the Sergeants’ – in September 1933. His credibility was sealed when the US ambassador to Cuba, Benjamin Welles, told Batista that he was the only man in Cuba who held any form of “personal authority”. Welles also made it clear to Batista that America had no intention of interfering in internal Cuban affairs and that what he did within the island was entirely a concern of the Cuban people. To Batista this appeared to be a green light to rule as he wished to. On January 19th 1934, America recognised the new government of Cuba.
Batista was promoted to the rank of Colonel and became the leader of a fascist-inspired corporative state. Batista himself was an unpredictable man. He could be brutal but in 1937 allowed the formation of rival political parties. He ruled behind a series of puppet presidents who served no other purpose than to disguise the power wielded by Batista.
Batista was not without his opponents, regardless of how dangerous that was. One of the more vocal was Antonio Guitaras who founded a student movement that opposed Batista’s rule. In 1935 he was murdered almost certainly by government gunmen. Other opponents simply disappeared.
In 1939, in what was deemed a fair election, Batista was elected President of Cuba. He continued to build up his support with the USA and in 1944 he introduced war taxes to help America pay for her war effort. This was an unpopular move within Cuba where many remained poor. More general opposition to Batista occurred and in 1944 he went into voluntary exile in the Dominican Republic before moving to Daytona Beach, Florida. From here he ran a campaign to return to Cuban politics and in 1948 he won a seat in the Cuban Senate.
In 1952, Batista ran for presidency. All the indications showed that he would lose and some of the polls put the former Cuban leader last. Such a humiliation would have ended any chance of attaining his former power. To avoid such humiliation, Batista put himself at the head of another military coup. On March 10th 1952 this proved to be successful and the US quickly recognised both his positioning office and his government on March 27th.
Batista now held the self-appointed rank of General. Once in power Batista suspended the island’s constitution and established a one-party dictatorship with him as the leader.
Batista’s rule was oppressive. The rich on the island did well as long as they ensured that they ‘rewarded’ Batista. However, little if anything was done for the poor. Batista allowed Cuba to become a playground for America’s rich. Just fifty miles from Florida, rich Americans would fly out to Havana to gamble and to enjoy the good life. Nothing could have been in more stark contrast to the lives of poverty led by the Cuban poor.
On July 26th 1953, a small group opposed to Batista attacked a barrack’s in Santiago. The attack, led by Fidel Castro, was a failure but Batista responded with his infamous ’10 for 1’ order – that the local military commander had to shoot ten civilians for every one soldier killed. In the event, 59 people were shot – though as 19 soldiers had been killed, the final total could have reached 190.
Batista wanted everything to return to normal as quickly as possible as he feared that any perceived social uprising would put off those who wanted to invest vast sums of US dollars in Cuba. It is said that he took 30% of the cash raised in the gambling hotels built in Havana – run by the Mafia – while his wife took 10%. As the cash that flowed through these hotels was so great, the 60% left – if these figures were correct – would have still represented a massive profit for those involved.
In May 1955, Batista felt so strongly entrenched in his position that he released from prison Castro and other rebels who had survived the July 1953 barracks attack in Santiago.
From December 1956, Batista faced a growing challenge from a left-wing movement led by Fidel Castro. Student demonstrations in Havana were brutally dealt with by police and student leaders were murdered by men who were outside of the law. However, Batista did face one huge problem. The number of poor Cubans who had not benefited from the vast sums of money that had been invested and spent in Cuba far outweighed those who had benefited. These people were ideal targets for the likes of Castro and Ché Guevara who had gone to Cuba to assist Castro.
The sheer size of the island gave Castro and his men the opportunity to hide from Batista’s men. They copied the tactics of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communists. Castro’s followers helped the poor of the island by helping out on their very rudimentary farms, by establishing the most basic of schools for the poor and by giving what medical help they could. This ‘hearts and minds’ policy was very successful and the support for the Communists spread outside of the Sierra Maestra Mountains and nearer and nearer to Batista’s power base in Havana.
Batista lost the support of the Cuban Army and on December 31st 1958 he had to flee Cuba for the Dominican Republic with his reputation in ruins.
Fulgencio Batista died in 1973.