Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973) was a Cuban army officer who rose to the presidency on two occasions, from 1940-1944 and 1952-1958. He also held a great deal of national influence from 1933 to 1940, although he did not at that time hold any elected office. He is perhaps best remembered as the Cuban president who was overthrown by Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution of 1953-1959.
Collapse of the Machado Government
Batista was a young sergeant in the army when the repressive government of General Gerardo Machado fell apart in 1933. The charismatic Batista organized the so-called “Sergeant’s Rebellion” of non-commissioned officers and seized control of the armed forces. By making alliances with student groups and unions, Batista was able to put himself in a position where he was effectively ruling the country. He eventually broke with the student groups, including the Revolutionary Directorate (a student activist group) and they became his implacable enemies.
First Presidential Term, 1940-1944
In 1938, Batista ordered a new constitution and ran for president. In 1940 he was elected president in a somewhat crooked election, and his party won a majority in Congress. During his term, Cuba formally entered World War Two on the side of the Allies. Although he presided over a relatively stable time and the economy was good, he was defeated in the 1944 elections by Dr. Ramón Grau.
Return to the Presidency
Batista moved to Daytona Beach in the United States for a while before deciding to re-enter Cuban politics. He was elected senator in 1948 and returned to Cuba. He established the Unitary Action Party and ran for president in 1952, assuming that most Cubans had missed him during his years away. Soon, it became apparent that he would lose: he was running a distant third to Roberto Agramonte of the Ortodoxo Party and Dr. Carlos Hevia of the Auténtico party. Fearful of losing entirely his weakening grip on power, Batista and his allies in the military decided to take control of the government by force.
The 1952 Coup
Batista had a great deal of support. Many of his former cronies in the military had been weeded out or passed over for promotion in the years since Batista had left: it is suspected that many of these officers may have gone ahead with the takeover even if they had not convinced Batista to go along with it. In the early hours of March 10, 1952, about three months before the election was scheduled, the plotters silently took control of the Camp Columbia military compound and the fort of La Cabaña. Strategic spots such as railways, radio stations and utilities were all occupied. President Carlos Prío, learning too late of the coup, tried to organize a resistance but could not: he ended up seeking asylum in the Mexican embassy.
Back in Power
Batista quickly reasserted himself, placing his old cronies back in positions of power. He publicly justified the takeover by saying that President Prío had intended to stage his own coup in order to remain in power. Young firebrand lawyer Fidel Castro tried to bring Batista to court to answer for the illegal takeover, but was thwarted: he decided that legal means of removing Batista would not work. Many Latin American countries quickly recognized the Batista government and on May 27 the United States also extended formal recognition.
Castro, who would likely have been elected to Congress had the elections taken place, had learned that there was no way of legally removing Batista and began organizing a revolution. On July 26, 1953 Castro and a handful of rebels attacked the army barracks at Moncada, igniting the Cuban Revolution. The attack failed and Fidel and Raúl Castro were jailed, but it brought them a great deal of attention. Many captured rebels were executed on the spot, resulting in a lot of negative press for the government. In prison, Fidel Castro began organizing the 26th of July movement, named after the date of the Moncada assault.
Batista and Castro
Batista had been aware of Castro’s rising political star for some time, and had once even given Castro a $1,000 wedding present in an attempt to keep him friendly. After Moncada, Castro went to jail, but not before publicly making his own trial about the illegal power grab. In 1955 Batista ordered the release of many political prisoners, including those who had attacked Moncada. The Castro brothers went to Mexico to organize the revolution.