Fidel Castro Was An Upgrade Over Fulgencio Batista
Fidel Castro was a brutal dictator whose death means the last of the 20th-century strong men are now gone. Fidel Castro was also a revolutionary who was and will be revered by millions worldwide. These statements would seem to be in opposition to one another, yet both are true. To understand why, an understanding of Castro’s predecessor is vital.
Fulgencio Batista was the duly elected President of Cuba from 1940-1944 and dictator from 1952-1959. The United States government supported the American-friendly Batista regime when it came to power in 1952 via coup d’etat. Batista took by force what Cuban voters denied him in elections.
Batista’s return to power was marked by obsession with gaining the acceptance of Cuba’s upper classes, who had denied him membership into their exclusive social clubs. Increasingly, his energies were devoted to amassing an even greater fortune. Batista opened Havana to large-scale gambling, announcing that his government would match, dollar-for-dollar, any hotel investment over $1 million, which would include a casino license. American mobster Meyer Lansky placed himself at the center of Cuba’s gambling operation.
As he delayed plans to step down from office, Batista faced growing opposition, and eventually a popular challenge. Batista suspended constitutional guarantees and increasingly relied on police tactics in an attempt to frighten the population through open displays of brutality. Though he made some political concessions between 1954 and 1956 — lifting press censorship, releasing political prisoners (including Fidel Castro and his brother Raul), allowing exiles to return — his unpopularity continued to grow.
Fidel Castro, together with a handful of supporters that included the professional revolutionary Che Guevara, landed in Cuba to unseat Batista in December 1956 while the U.S. continued to support Batista. Suspicious of what they believed to be Castro’s leftist ideology and fearful that his ultimate goals might include attacks on U.S. investments and properties in Cuba, American officials were nearly unanimous in opposing his revolutionary movement.
Cuban support for Castro’s revolution, however, spread and grew in the late 1950s, partially due to his personal charisma and nationalistic rhetoric, but also because of the increasingly rampant corruption, brutality and inefficiency within the Batista government. This reality forced U.S. policymakers to slowly withdraw their support from Batista and begin a search in Cuba for an alternative to both the dictator and Castro.
American efforts to find a “middle road” between Batista and Castro ultimately failed. On January 1, 1959, Batista and a number of his supporters fled Cuba. Tens of thousands of Cubans (and thousands of Cuban-Americans in the United States) joyously celebrated the end of the dictator’s regime.
In the years that followed, the U.S. attitude toward the new revolutionary government would move from cautiously suspicious to downright hostile. As the Castro government moved toward a closer relationship with the Soviet Union, and Castro declared himself to be a Marxist-Leninist, relations between the U.S. and Cuba collapsed into mutual enmity, which continued only somewhat abated through the following decades.
Fidel Castro Is Personal
Castro’s reign was complicated, as is the case with most dictators. One of my best friends is from Cuba, and he and his family understandably detest Castro, celebrating his death. I have also met other people from Cuba who recognize that those who were “off-put”, at least at the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, were elites and those profiting from the Batista government.
Castro displaced a fascist who made the island available to the highest bidder, which increasingly had become the American mob. It’s easy to see see why the people of Cuba welcomed the revolution at the time. In the decades to follow, the incarceration of librarians and use of secret police against dissidents was juxtaposed against the protection of political prisoners like Assata Shakur, as well as a staunch symbol against American imperialism a mere 90 miles away.
Those who hate Castro should look at Batista before making any judgment about the former. Would the continuation of the Batista reign have been better or worse for the Cuban people?