“THIS DAY IN CUBAN HISTORY – Birth of Fulgencio Batista”

A publication of the Cuban Studies Institute

Birth of Fulgencio Batista

Ruben Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar (1901-1973), President of Cuba, 1940-1944 and Strongman, 1952-1958. Born in Banes, Oriente province, on January 16, son of a sugar cane cutter, spent his early years in poverty and attended a Quaker missionary school. After leaving school, he worked as an apprentice tailor, cane field worker employed in a grocery store, barber and rail before joining the army at the age of 20 years. The military gave him the opportunity for a rapid upward climb. As a young ambitious and energetic, Batista studied at night and graduated from the National School of Journalism. In 1928 he was appointed sergeant and assigned as a stenographer at Camp Columbia in Havana. Being at the forefront of the revolt Sergeant September 1933, he won prominence and power. Before year-end Batista had become a colonel and chief of staff of the army. He became a general in 1941.

On 14 January 1934 the only alliance between students and army collapsed, and Batista forced to give the new president Ramon Grau San Martin, to finish the revolution that had begun with the overthrow of Gerardo Machado. Batista emerged as the arbiter of Cuba policy, particularly after the general strike destroyed 1935; He participated in the drafting of the progressive constitution of 1940, and ruled through puppet presidents until 1940, when he was elected himself. Wishing to win popular support, he sponsored an impressive body of social welfare legislation: public administration, public health, education and public works improved. Established rural hospitals, guaranteed minimum wage legislation, increased salaries of public and private employees, and began a program of rural schools under the control of the army. The army received higher wages, pensions, better food and modern medical care, ensuring their loyalty. Batista also legalized the Communist Party of Cuba. On December 9, 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Cuba led to World War II on the Allied side, and in 1943 established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

In 1944, he allowed free elections and Grau San Martin was elected for a term of four years. After an extensive tour of Central and South America, Batista settled in Daytona Beach, Florida, where he wrote the compendium of his life and politics, Shadows of America (Mexico City: 1946). In 1948, while still living in Florida, he was elected senator for the province of Santa Clara. He returned to Cuba the same year, he organized his own party and announced his candidacy for the presidential elections of June 1952. Perhaps aware that he had little chance of winning, he and a group of army officers overthrew President Carlos Prio on March 10, 1952, they suspended Congress and the Constitution, canceled the elections and dissolved all political parties.

The opposition soon developed, directed mainly by university students and demonstrators rioted often culminating in the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953 led by Fidel Castro. Batista seemed determined to stay in power. The fraudulent election in November 1954, was “re-elected” for a period of four years from 24 February 1955. Although Cuba was prosperous, neglected the social and economic problems; corruption and bribery reached unprecedented proportions. Orders new elections were ignored, but the political commitment seemed increasingly unlikely, particularly after the collapse of Civic Dialogue, supporters of violence grew in number. It increased student activism. Fidel Castro returned to Mexico to start a guerrilla war in the countryside. Other groups organized underground in the city. The attack on the Presidential Palace in 1957 by students and supporters of ousted President Prio almost manages to kill Batista; his government faced counter-terrorism, political prisoners were tortured and killed.

In 1958 he had developed a national revolt against the dictator and his methods. Finally, desertions from the army and US opposition precipitated the collapse of the regime. On December 31, 1958, Batista gave the presidency to Carlos M. Stone and Stone and in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1959, flew into exile in the Dominican Republic and then to Madeira, where he wrote several books, including his apology for its divisive role in Cuban politics, Cuba Betrayed, and growth and decay of the Republic of Cuba. Denied entry to the United States, he moved to Madrid, where he died in 1973.

* Jaime Suchlicki is Director of the Institute for Cuban, CSI Studies, a research nonprofit in Coral Gables, FL. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition; Mexico: Montezuma to the rise of the PAN, 2nd edition, and A Brief History of Cuba.