Fidel Castro was the son of a wealthy sugar plantation and land owner. He was an intellectually gifted, but difficult child who moved into political activity in his youth.
He was a member of the anti-communist Partido Ortodoxo which opposed the corrupt government of Cuba. When General Fulgencio Batista seized power in 1952 Castro was left without any legitimate way to power so he turned to insurrection. In 1953 he led a group to attack the Moncada Barracks. The attack failed, he was captured and sentenced to 15 years in jail.
In 1955 Castro was released from prison in an amnesty and he traveled to Mexico where he met revolutionaries including Ché Guevara. Their group sailed to Cuba on the Granma in 1956.
There were about 80 of them. Most were killed by Batista’s forces, but Castro, his brother, Guevara and a handful of others escaped to the mountains where they organised a guerrilla insurgency.
They set up parallel government in rural areas with some agrarian reforms and manufacture. Their popular movement expanded while the corrupt Batista regime started to fall apart. Many of Batista’s forces deserted and finally in 1959 Batista himself fled to the Dominican Republic.
Castro set up a provisional government and quickly executed hundreds of Batista supporters. Fidel assumed the role of Prime Minister after his government was recognized by the United States.
At this time Castro was still not a communist, but he nationalised factories and plantations to reduce US dominance of the island economy. Compensation was paid although the expropriated owners considered it completely inadequate. Castro took a delegation to the US to try to maintain relations with them, but Eisenhower refused to meet him.
This snub led Castro to turn his back on America and look for alternative economic support. At the same time Castro consolidated his domestic power with purges of military and political leaders who were not close to him.
By 1960 Castro’s government made an oil trade deal with the Soviet Union and obtained recognition from the USSR. When US owned Cuban sugar refineries refused to process the Russian oil, Castro expropriated them. The US retaliated by cutting Cuba’s sugar import quota and their economic war began.
Had the US chosen to work with Castro, it is unlikely that Cuba would have forged links with the USSR and Fidel himself may not have become radicalised. As it was, Castro now started to talk in Marxist terms. By 1961 President Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba and later Castro declared Cuba to be a socialist state.
Shortly after this declaration, the US supported an invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles. This infamous Bay of Pigs invasion failed and CIA involvement in the invasion was revealed. The US efforts to overthrow his government gave Castro the excuse to abolish democratic elections and by the beginning of 1962 he declared himself to be a Marxist-Leninist. The US responded by a full economic embargo which is only now starting to be dismantled.
Castro strengthened his military relations with the USSR in the hope of deterring another US supported invasion and this finally led to the infamous nuclear stand off in 1963 when the Russians agreed to remove missiles from Cuba in return for a secret agreement that America would not invade the island. The USA did not organise any more invasions, but made repeated attempts to assassinate Castro.
It was not until 1965 that Castro merged the Cuban Communist Party with his own nationalist revolutionary organisations. He appointed himself as head or the Party and began to see himself as the leader of revolution in Latin America and Africa.
Guevara led a failed intervention in the Congo in 1965. He had to return ill to Cuba, but the idea of revolutionary intervention in the third world took root. In 1967 Castro formed the Latin American Solidarity Organisation and Guevara led a group to fight the US backed regime in Bolivia. Ché was captured and executed by forces organised by the CIA and reputedly with involvement by the Nazi Klaus Barbie!
Castro was undoubtedly angered and upset by the killing of Ché and it may have been this that led him to put covert forces into Vietnam to oppose the US.
Castro committed about 4,000 troops to the Arab invasion of Israel in 1973. This seems for little reason other than that Israel was an American ally.
By this time Castro had transformed from being a Cuban nationalist leader to seeing himself as the opponent of US imperialism for the whole of the developing world. In 1974, with his economy sustained and his military armed by the USSR, Castro was able to expand his military adventures. He committed troops to Angola when the end of Portuguese colonial administration resulted in civil war. He sent 5,000 troops to support the MPLA in their war against the US and South African backed UNITA & FNLA.
In 1977 he sent 15,000 troops to the Ogaden area of the horn of Africa in support of the newly Marxist Ethiopian regime. Somalia had just dumped Marxism and become a US ally.
By 1987 the Cuban military was still actively involved in the Angolan conflict and Castro increased the number of his troops to around 55,000 and the fighting spread over into Namibia. It is thought that as many as 5,000 Cuban troops were killed in the conflict, but many tens of thousands must have been killed or maimed by them over 20 years of Cuban military adventurism in Latin America and Africa.
Not long after this, the Soviet Union broke up and with it the Cuban economy collapsed. Castro’s time as revolutionary hero and darling of western intellectual leftists was coming to an end.
The primary reason for 50 years of communism in Cuba is most probably not Fidel Castro, but President Dwight Eisenhower, but having taken the course he did Castro is entirely responsible for the repression in Cuba and the carnage abroad that he inspired, organised and defended.