Editors Note: We're blogging through We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel.
Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926, as the illegitimate son of a sugar cane farmer. He advanced through school as an outstanding athlete, eventually entering the law school portion of the University of Havana. While there, he entered a failed attempt to overthrow the Dominican Republic’s government.
After graduation, he joined a political party and prepared for a campaign for a spot in the House of Representatives. However, in May 1952, former Cuban President Fulgencio Batista overthrew the government and set himself up as dictator. Castro attempted to remove Batista by legal means, but after that failed, he started forming a rebellion. He was arrested after a failed attack on military barracks and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
After about a year in prison, Fidel and his brother Raul, also arrested after the attack, were released by Batista. Both Castro brothers traveled to Mexico to continue planning an attack on Batista’s government.
On December 2, 1956, Castro, along with 81 armed men, landed back on Cuba. They were intercepted by the Cuban military, and only 12, including the Castros, escaped. As the revolution gained popularity, Fidel’s forces started winning skirmishes. The rebels were able to destroy confidence in Batista, and the President left Cuba on January 1, 1959.
Fidel started as Commander-in-Chief, but after the stand-in president resigned in July of 1959, Castro took over as Premier. At first, Cubans loved Castro’s rule, but after he claimed most land and all foreign businesses, his real agenda was revealed. The United States disliked his moves, and stopped all trading with Cuba. In April of 1961, the US government attempted to overthrow Castro’s government by landing thousands of exiled former Cubans at the Bay of Pigs. The Cuban army, however, crushed the attempt.
Castro created a trade agreement with the Soviet Union, and began having nuclear weapons transported to Cuba. After the US caught wind of the weapons, they immediately insisted the USSR remove the weapons. After a tense few days, during which the world feared the start of World War III, the USSR backed down and agreed to remove the weapons in exchange for a guarantee that the US wouldn’t attack Cuba, along with the removal of US nuclear weapons from Turkey. Castro was left out of the negotiations, and was humiliated by the result.
After the crisis, Castro set up a one-party government system, and began eliminating any opposition to his power. Executions were frequent and almost random. The government system changed in name in 1976, when Castro went from premier to president, but kept his complete control over the country. He made it illegal for Cuban residents to leave the country without a hart-to-obtain permit. However, during one five-month span in 1980, Castro opened the Port of Mariel and allowed anyone to leave. Around 125,000 immigrants left for the United States, overwhelming US immigration stations. In 1994, large protests rocked Cuba, and, as a result, Castro removed restrictions on leaving the country, allowing thousands of residents to leave for the United States.
In 2003, the government confirmed Castro for another 5 year term. He only remained in office for three of those years, however. On July 31, Castro announced he was temporarily passing power to his brother Raul while he recovered from surgery. He never took power back, and officially resigned in February 2008, although he didn’t fully remove his name from the government until 2011.
In early 2015, the US started re-opening diplomatic negotiations with Cuba. Human rights became the biggest discussion point between the two countries. While nothing concrete has been formed as of this point, negotiations have advanced well, and there is a chance that the strained relationship between the two countries could be eased at least a little.