Source/Copyright Not Known: Fidel Castro (crop), undated

Fidel Castro was Prime Minister/President of Cuba from 1959 until 2008. Born in about 1926, he grew up in the remote northeastern Cuban province of Oriente where his family owned one of the area’s largest sugar plantations. He attended a number of elite secondary schools in Cuba before studying law at the University of Havana, which had been a center of political activity since the 1930s. There, Castro became acquainted with nationalist supporters and participated in political strikes and demonstrations.

After graduation, Castro set up his own law practice in Havana, but continued to be politically active. He ran as a congressional candidate in 1952, but elections were canceled after the March 10th military coup d'etat by General Fulgencio Batista. The next year, Castro led a revolt against the authoritarian and corrupt government of General Batista. Most of the leaders of this revolt, later known as the "26th of July" movement, were killed or imprisoned. After serving 22 months in prison, Castro reorganized the movement and recruited new followers. The movement eventually forced Batista to flee the country shortly before dawn on New Year's Day, 1959.

Since assuming his position as Prime Minister of Cuba on February 16, 1959, Castro was in control of Cuba’s government, military, and economy. He transformed the country into a socialist nation with a state-run economy and social programs.

Strained relations with the United States following Batista’s overthrow marked Castro’s time in power, due to his nationalization of U.S. property in Cuba and alliances with the U.S.S.R. The United States formally ended diplomatic relations with Cuba on January 3, 1961. Shortly thereafter, two of the most well-known clashes between the Cuban and American governments occurred during the administration of President Kennedy. In 1961, the United States backed anti-Castro Cuban exiles in the Bay of Pigs invasion, which resulted in the defeat of the exiles by the Cuban army. In October of 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted when it was discovered that the U.S.S.R. was building nuclear missile sites on the island. After thirteen days of tense negotiation, the Soviet Union ultimately removed its missiles from the island. Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba were finally restored more than fifty years later in 2015, when embassies reopened in both countries.

1926 Born, Oriente, Cuba

1941 Student, El Colegio de Belén, Havana

1945 Student, University of Havana Law School

1947 Member, Ortodoxo Party

1949 Practicing lawyer, Havana

1952 Congressional candidate, Ortodoxo Party

1953 July 26, Leader of movement against Cuban army’s Moncada Barracks; Fidel and brother Raúl sentenced to 15 years in prison

1953 - 1955 Author (from prison), “History Will Absolve Me”

1955 April 1, Released after 22 months in prison; travels to Mexico

1956 November 25, Returns to Cuba and begins uprising against Batista

1959 January 1, Castro’s forces enter Havana as Batista flees the country
         February 16, Prime Minister of Cuba
         April 15-26, Trip to U.S., dubbed “Operation Truth”
         May 17, Signing of Agrarian Reform Act, expropriating farm lands, including his family’s land

1960  May 8, Establishment of formal diplomatic relations with U.S.S.R.
         July 5, Nationalization of U.S. companies and properties in Cuba
         September 17, Nationalization of all U.S. banks in Cuba

1964 Trip to Soviet Union; signing of a new trade agreement

1965 First Secretary, Communist Party of Cuba

1976 Implementation of new Cuban constitution; Castro given title President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers

1979 September 3-9, Elected Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement

2006 July 31, Temporarily transfers responsibilities to Vice President Raúl Castro due to ill health

2008 February, Officially resigns as President of Cuba

2016 November 25, Died


“American Experience: Fidel Castro.” WGBH Educational Foundation, 2004.

Frankel, Max. High Noon in the Cold War: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Ballantine books, 2004.

Fursenko, Aleksandr and Timothy Naftali. “One Hell of a Gamble”: Khrushchev, Castro and Kennedy, 1958-1964. New York: W.W. North & Company, 1997

See Also

Audio: President Kennedy’s radio and television report to the American people on the Soviet arms buildup in Cuba, October 22, 1962

Interactive Exhibit: The World on the Brink: John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis

JFK in History

The Bay of Pigs
The Cold War
Cuban Missile Crisis

Kennedy Library Forum transcripts

50th Anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 14, 2012 (pdf)
50th Anniversary of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, April 17, 2011 (pdf)
The Future of Cuba, November 17, 2009
The Cuban Missile Crisis: An Eyewitness Perspective, October 17, 2007 (pdf)
On the Brink: The Cuban Missile Crisis, October 20, 2002 (pdf) 
Cuban Missile Crisis: An Historical Perspective, October 6, 2002 (pdf)
Thirteen Days: An Insider's Perspective, October 1, 2002 (pdf)