Fulgencio Batista

Dafato Team | May 24, 2022

Table of Content

Summary

Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar (August 6, 1973) was a Cuban military officer. He was the constitutional president of Cuba from 1940 to 1944 and de facto president from 1952 to 1959, when he was overthrown after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

Batista first came to power with the coup d'état of September 4, 1933, known as the Revolt of the Sergeants that ended the provisional government of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada. Batista then appointed himself head of the armed forces with the rank of colonel and established a government junta known as the Pentarquia. He retained control over several provisional presidents between 1934 and 1940, when he was elected President of Cuba with a populist candidacy. That same year he approved a new Constitution for the country, considered progressive for the time, and remained in office until 1944. After the end of his mandate he lived in the United States and returned to the Caribbean island as a candidate in the 1952 elections. Faced with the prospect of certain defeat, he staged another coup d'état supported by part of the national army months before the elections.

Back in power, Batista abolished the 1940 Constitution and suspended political freedoms, including the right to strike. He allied himself with the island's wealthy landowners who owned the largest sugar cane plantations and presided over a stagnant economy that widened the gap between rich and poor Cubans. Batista's increasingly corrupt and repressive government began to systematically enrich itself by exploiting Cuba's commercial interests and making lucrative deals with the U.S. mafia, which controlled Havana's drug, prostitution and gambling businesses. In an attempt to quell the growing discontent of his people, which manifested itself on numerous occasions through strikes and student riots, Batista tightened censorship of the media and stepped up repression of communists through indiscriminate violence, torture and executions that cost the lives of some 20,000 people. During the 1950s, the Batista regime received financial, logistical and military support from the United States, under the administrations of Harry S. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

For two years, from 1956 to 1958, the 26th of July Movement of nationalist and democratic ideology, headed by Fidel Castro, led the resistance against Batista's repression through a war of urban and rural guerrillas that culminated in the definitive defeat of the dictatorial regime at the hands of the rebels led by the Argentine Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara in the battle of Santa Clara, fought on New Year's Day 1959. Batista immediately fled the island with all the money he had amassed and settled in the Dominican Republic, ruled by his ally Rafael Trujillo. Finally, he found asylum in the Portugal of dictator Oliveira Salazar, although his death occurred on August 6, 1973 near the Spanish town of Marbella.

Fulgencio Batista was born in Veguita, municipality of Banes, Holguin Province, in 1901 and was baptized in the church of Santa Florentina in Fray Benito, former province of Oriente.

Son of Belisario Batista and Carmela Zaldívar, Cubans who fought for the independence of Cuba. Of very poor origins and economic condition, he began to work at a very early age, performing various trades in his youth. At the age of 20 he bought a ticket to Havana and joined the army in 1921 and, in 1923, he joined the rural guard, where he reached the rank of sergeant-tachographer of the Army General Staff.

After the overthrow of the government of General Gerardo Machado in 1933, a new government was formed under the presidency of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y Quesada, but discontent persisted in part of society. A group of military men, including Batista, and some democratic sectors signed a manifesto calling for the elaboration of a New Constituent Assembly to replace that of 1901 (in which, among other things, the Platt Amendment was reflected).

After the fall of Machado in 1933, he participated in several conspiracies that culminated in the Civic-Military Movement of September 4 of that year. A Government Junta was then established, the so-called Pentarquia (it consisted of 5 members, one of them Dr. Ramón Grau). The revolutionary Dr. Antonio Guiteras Holmes was also part of the Cabinet.

At the proposal of Sergio Carbó, Batista was appointed Colonel-Chief of the Army that same year. From 1934 to 1940 he led the repression against the communist and socialist movements in the sugar mills with an iron fist.

Since his mother named him Ruben and gave him her surname, Zaldivar, after Belisario Batista refused to register him under his own surname, in the records of the court of Banes he continued to be legally Ruben Zaldivar until 1939, when he was nominated for the presidential candidacy, it was discovered that Fulgencio Batista's birth registration did not exist. Obtaining it cost him to postpone the presentation of his candidacy and fifteen thousand pesos to pay the judge.

In 1940, the Constituent Assembly was finally created, with the participation of politicians from different sectors, such as Carlos Prío Socarrás, Ramón Grau San Martín, Eduardo Chibás, or the communists Blas Roca Calderío and Juan Marinello Vidaurreta.

After the resignation of Federico Laredo Bru in 1940, Batista ran as the candidate of the Socialist-Democratic Coalition in the 1940 elections, and was elected president, inaugurating his mandate on October 10, 1940. Some ministers of the Popular Socialist Party would participate in that government. On June 8 of the same year a new Constitution was approved, which introduced into Cuban political practice a semi-parliamentarism: the president was elected by universal suffrage for a four-year term; it also strengthened the intervention of the Government in the economy and introduced a Social Security network. The sugar industry was severely affected by the deterioration of relations between Cuba and the United States during 1939, although the new treaty signed on December 27, 1939 improved the situation by reestablishing the quota system for this industry.

During his first term, Batista cooperated in World War II with the Allies and declared war on the Japanese Empire, Germany and Italy. In 1944 new elections were called and Ramón Grau San Martín was elected president.

In 1944, Batista's chosen successor, Carlos Saladrigas Zayas, had been defeated by Grau. Batista dedicated the first months of the new government to harming Grau's administration, something that was noticed by the U.S. ambassador at the time, Spruille Braden, who wrote that Batista was causing problems for Grau, especially with regard to the country's economy.

After Grau's victory, Batista left for the United States, claiming that he would feel safer there. He divorced his wife, Elisa, and married Marta Fernández in 1945. Two of their four children were born in the United States. For the next eight years, Batista alternated between living in the Waldorf Astoria in New York and a house in Daytona Beach, Florida.

He continued to participate, from a distance, in Cuban politics, and was elected to the Cuban Senate in absentia in 1948. Upon returning to his country, he decided to run in the presidential elections, receiving permission from President Grau to found the Unitary Action Party. He later founded the Progressive Action Party, although after his first presidency he never regained his former popular support, but retained that of the unions until the end. The president elected in 1948 was finally Carlos Prío Socarrás.

1952 Coup d'Etat

After eight years of constitutional government under the presidencies of Ramón Grau San Martín and Carlos Prío Socarrás, Batista was one of the candidates in the 1952 elections. However, some of the polls placed him in third place, behind Roberto Agramonte of the Orthodox Party and Carlos Hevia of the Authentic Party. Because of this, on March 10, 1952, barely four months before the presidential elections, he once again staged a coup d'état, alleging a series of unjustifiable reasons, taking advantage of his leadership within the Armed Forces and backed by certain political sectors of the country. Batista deposed Carlos Prío Socarrás, the outgoing president, cancelled the elections and imposed himself as "provisional president". The coup d'état process did not result in any bloodshed, but it attracted the attention and concern of a large part of the population.

Fulgencio Batista increased the salary of the Armed Forces and the Police (from 67 pesos to 100 pesos and from 91 pesos to 150 pesos, respectively), granted himself an annual salary higher than that of the President of the United States (from US$26,400 to US$144,000 compared to Truman's US$100,000), suspended Congress and handed over legislative power to the Council of Ministers, abolished the right to strike, reestablished the death penalty (prohibited by the 1940 Constitution) and suspended constitutional guarantees.

Economic policy

Arthur Meier Schlesinger, personal advisor to President Kennedy, recalled a stay in the Cuban capital and testified:

Relationship with organized crime

During the 1950s, Havana was filled with casinos, prostitution, drug trafficking in the service of U.S. criminal organizations, corrupt police and fraudulently elected politicians. In an attempt to take advantage of this environment, Batista established lasting relationships with organized crime, especially with U.S. mobsters such as Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, and under his rule Havana became known as "Las Vegas Latina". Batista and Lansky had a decade-long business relationship, with Batista receiving various bribes in exchange for Lansky's control of casinos and racetracks in Cuba.

After World War II, Lucky Luciano was released on the condition that he return permanently to Sicily. Luciano secretly moved to Cuba, where he worked to regain control of the U.S. Mafia. Luciano also held several Havana casinos with Batista's blessing, although the U.S. government eventually succeeded in getting him deported.

Batista encouraged large-scale gambling in Havana. In 1955, it was announced that Cuba would grant a gambling license to anyone who invested US$1 million in a hotel and US$200,000 in a new discotheque, and that the government would provide public funds for the construction of the casinos, a ten-year tax exemption, and that duties on imported equipment and furnishings for the new hotels would be waived. Each casino would pay the government US$250,000 for the license plus a percentage of the profits. The government, however, bypassed the controls, which opened the doors to investors with illegally obtained funds. Meyer Lansky, for his part, became a prominent figure in Cuba's gambling operations, and influenced Batista's policies regarding the casinos. He also turned Cuba into an international port for drug trafficking.

Relations with the United States

The U.S. government used its influence to promote the interests and increase the profits of private U.S. companies that dominated the island's economy. As a symbol of the business relationship between Batista and U.S. companies, the multinational telephone company ITT Corporation presented the dictator with a gold telephone as an expression of appreciation for an excessive increase Batista granted to the telephone rate at the behest of the U.S. government.

Earl T. Smith, former U.S. ambassador to Cuba, testified before the U.S. Senate in 1960 that, until Castro's arrival, U.S. power over Cuba was so great that the ambassador was the second most important man after the president, and even more important than the president. Moreover, almost all the aid the United States provided to the Caribbean country was arms that merely reinforced the dictatorship and did nothing to advance the economic well-being of the Cuban people. Such actions later enabled Castro and the communists to reinforce the growing belief that the United States was indifferent to Cuban aspirations for a dignified life. Such cooperation with the Batista government was primarily due to the dictator's strong opposition to communism during the height of the Cold War (1947-1953) between the United States and the USSR.

Background

On July 26, 1953, a little more than a year after Batista's coup d'état, a small group of revolutionaries stormed the Moncada Barracks in Santiago. Government forces easily defeated the assailants and imprisoned their leaders, while many other participants fled the country. The main leader of the attack, Fidel Castro, was a young lawyer who would have been a candidate in the 1952 parliamentary elections had they not been cancelled by the coup. Following the assault on the Moncada Barracks, Batista suspended constitutional guarantees and from then until the end of his government the police were in charge of keeping the population frightened and repressed.

By the end of 1955, student revolts and anti-Batista demonstrations had become frequent, and unemployment became a real problem, as recent graduates of working age could not get steady employment. All these problems were dealt with by increased repression, where practically all young people were seen as suspected revolutionaries. Because of its constant opposition to the dictator and the great revolutionary activity taking place on campus, the University of Havana was temporarily closed on November 30, 1956, and would not reopen until after Batista's overthrow. On March 13, 1957, student leader José Antonio Echeverría fell in combat with police on the side of the University of Havana in Havana after announcing that Batista had been killed in a failed attack on the Presidential Palace. In reality, Batista had fled during the attack, and the students of the Federation of University Students and the Revolutionary Directorate March 13, who led the attack, were killed by the military and police. Castro condemned the attack since he had not participated in the 26th of July Movement.

In April 1956, Batista had military officer Ramón Barquín return from the United States to conduct an evaluation of the Dominican Republic's military capabilities to attack Cuba. At the time, both Batista and Dominican President Rafael Trujillo were facing serious political crises. Barquín was very popular among the Cuban people and Batista hoped that, by engaging with him, he would regain some support. However, Barquín was organizing his overthrow in the so-called Conspiracy of the Cigars. On April 4, 1956, an attempted coup d'état led by Barquín was carried out, which was a failure due to the intervention of Lieutenant Ríos Morejón, who betrayed the plan to Batista. Barquín was sentenced to solitary confinement on the Isle of Pines, and some agents were condemned to death for treason. Many other military officers who participated in the coup, however, remained without sanctions in the Army.

The purge of the Cuban Army following the attempted coup considerably weakened the Armed Forces in terms of fighting Castro's guerrillas. Batista's police responded to the growing popular unrest by torturing and killing suspects, but they were unable to combat the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra and Escambray. However, they were not able to combat the guerrillas in Sierra Maestra and the Escambray. Another probable explanation why Batista did not directly try to put an end to Castro's rebellion, given by Carlos Alberto Montaner, was that by using the image of the guerrillas he could easily steal part of the expenses used by the State to finance the defense of the country. The dictatorial government was becoming increasingly unpopular among the oppressed population, and the Soviet Union began to secretly support Castro's guerrillas. Several generals of the Cuban Armed Forces also spoke ill of Batista in recent years, as his excessive interference in military planning weakened and hindered the Army in the fight against the guerrillas.

In November 1958, new elections were held, except in the provinces of Las Villas and Oriente, which by then were already under Castro's control. The elections were scheduled for June, as required by the constitution, but were delayed due to guerrilla activities. As in 1954, Ramón Grau also withdrew his candidacy shortly before the elections, alleging fraud, which materialized when Batista ordered a recount after the elections. The winner was Andrés Rivero Agüero, a Batista-friendly candidate. However, even though he was the legitimate president of the republic, he was not allowed to take office.

Fall of power

Taking into account the loss of lives, the material damage to property and the evident harm being done to the economy of the Republic and praying to God to enlighten the Cubans to be able to live in peace, I resign my powers as President of the Republic, handing it over to his constitutional substitute. I beg the people to remain in order and to avoid being thrown to be victims of passions that could be unfortunate for the Cuban family.

By the end of December 1958, the debacle of the Batista dictatorship appeared to be inevitable. The U.S. government had kept the dictator in power by providing him with planes, ships and state-of-the-art weapons such as napalm, but in March 1958 they announced that they would stop selling arms to the Cuban government. By the end of the year they even imposed an arms embargo, which marked the fate of the fragile dictatorial government. By December, the only people supporting Batista were the Cuban landowners and businessmen who had benefited economically from his dictatorship.

On December 28, the militias commanded by "Che" Guevara began the decisive attack against the city of Santa Clara, the key to the center of the island and the last stronghold before Havana. On December 31, when the rebel troops took the armored train that the government had sent to fortify the city, Batista decided to flee to Santo Domingo, fleeing in an airplane at 3:00 a.m. on January 1, 1959, together with the elected president Andrés Rivero Agüero, leaving the country virtually acephalous and in charge of General Eulogio Cantillo.

The following morning, the troops of the Second National Front of the Escambray commanded by Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo entered Havana. The following day, the troops of the "26th of July Movement" commanded by Camilo Cienfuegos and "Che" Guevara arrived, taking without resistance the regiment of Camp Columbia and the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress, respectively. Upon entering Camp Columbia, Cienfuegos excluded Colonel Barquín from command and detained General Cantillo. Shortly after, the troops of the Revolutionary Directory, under the command of Faure Chomón, occupied the Presidential Palace, which caused a crisis among the revolutionary forces. Simultaneously, on the same January 1, Fidel Castro arrived in Santiago de Cuba, declaring it the provisional capital of Cuba and proclaiming Magistrate Manuel Urrutia Lleó as president of the nation. For the time being, the United States government recognized the revolutionary government as legitimate, putting an end, both de jure and de facto, to the Batista dictatorship.

Batista fled the country with a fortune of more than US$2,000,000, going into exile first in the Dominican Republic, then on the island of Madeira (Portugal) and finally in Francisco Franco's Spain, even though Batista had referred to the dictator as a "fascist" in December 1942. Batista remained in Spain until his death in 1973, due to a heart attack, in the town of Marbella. He is buried in the San Isidro cemetery in Madrid, next to his second wife, Marta Fernández Miranda de Batista and one of his five children, Carlos Manuel, who died of leukemia in 1969.

Sources

  1. Fulgencio Batista
  2. Fulgencio Batista