PRES. GRAL. FULGENCIO BATISTA ZALDIVAR (1940-1944) (1952-58)
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. 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.
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.
Batista later moved to Madeira, then Estoril, outside Lisbon, Portugal, where he lived and wrote books the rest of his life. He was also the Chairman of a Spanish life insurance company that invested in property and on the Spanish Riviera.
He died of a heart attack on August 6, 1973, at Guadalmina, near Marbella, Spain, two days before a team of assassins from Castro’s Cuba could carry out a plan to assassinate him.
Marta Fernandez Miranda de Batista, Batista’s widow, died on October 2, 2006. Roberto Batista, her son, says that she died at her West Palm Beach home. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Batista was buried with her husband in San Isidro Cemetery in Madrid after a Mass in West Palm Beach.