History Will Not Absolve Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro Ruz, Cuban dictator of almost five decades, has been proclaimed dead by official Cuban sources. No cause of death has been officially given though Castro had been ill since July of 2006 when it was suddenly announced that he underwent emergency intestinal surgery and was “temporarily” handing over power to his younger brother Raul. Castro is survived by his longtime companion Dalia Soto del Valle and several children from various relationships. There has probably been no modern leader with as much disinformation surrounding his biography as Fidel Castro.

Castro was born in Birán in eastern Cuba on August 13, 1926. He was born out of wedlock, the third of seven children of Angel Castro Argiz and his then teenaged servant Lina Ruz Gonzalez. Castro’s father, a Spaniard who fought as a loyalist in the losing cause against Cuban independence, emerged as a wealthy landowner with a reputation for stealing land and property. The elder Castro is said to have harbored anti-American sentiments because of the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War. Apparently those sentiments were passed on to Fidel, as they were a hallmark of Castro’s rule in addition to deception, capricious micromanagement, and egomania.

Fidel Castro’s childhood was indelibly marked by his illegitimate status. His academic career was plagued by discipline problems. Fidel’s father Angel eventually divorced his first wife and in 1943 he finally married Lina and recognized her children, including Fidel and Raul, who bears no resemblance to his brothers and has long been suspected to be the product of an affair Lina had with a corporal in Cuba’s rural guard.

A little-known episode from Fidel Castro’s childhood years took place in 1940 when he wrote a letter to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt in which he lied about his age, saying he was two years younger than he really was and asking Roosevelt for a $10 bill. History professor Antonio de la Cova characterizes this as the first documented lie told by Fidel Castro and a sign of a child who was highly deceitful and manipulative. It also shows an early awareness of American power. In the letter, Castro offers to show Roosevelt where Cuba’s mineral wealth is hidden in exchange for the money.

In Havana’s exclusive Belen Jesuit school for boys, where his teachers were mainly Spanish Jesuits who themselves rejected American political and cultural values, Castro earned various nicknames such as el loco, the madman. Upon graduation, he enrolled in the University of Havana to study law. While there, Castro acquired a reputation as a violent agitator and gangster who often carried a gun. In 1947, Castro participated, with other Cuban recruits, in an ill-fated attempt to invade the Dominican Republic and depose the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, marking the first in a series of foreign interventions Castro would pursue throughout his life. During his university days Castro was implicated in the murder of a rival student leader, Manolo de Castro (no relation). He also participated in the attempted murder of Congressman Rolando Masferrer in September 1948.

Notably, Castro participated in a deadly riot that broke out in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1948 after a presidential candidate in that country was assassinated. It seemed that wherever Fidel Castro went violence followed. Later that same year Castro married Mirta Diaz-Balart, received a 1000-peso gift from Fulgencio Batista, and honeymooned in the United States. Castro’s oldest son, Fidelito, was born to Fidel and Mirta in 1949. The following year, Fidel obtained a law degree from the University of Havana.

Fidel Castro never distinguished himself as an attorney. Instead, he focused his attention toward politics and became involved with Cuba’s Ortodoxo Party. On March 10, 1952, Fulgencio Batista, who had served as Cuba’s first president under the country’s new Constitution of 1940, ousted incumbent President Carlos Prio Socarras in a coup d’état and set a chain of events in motion that would bring Castro to power before the end of the decade.