Office: Premier of Cuba
Time in Office: 1959-present
Fidel Castro was born near Mayari Cuba in 1926. In 1950, he graduated from the University of Havana with a law degree and opened a law office with two partners. Two years later he ran for election to the Cuban House of Representatives. The elections were never carried out because then dictator Fulgencio Batista halted them and ended democracy in Cuba. This was perhaps, the defining moment in Castro's life.
As a result of Batista's action, Castro assembled a small force and attacked the Moncada Army Barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26. Castro was captured and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. In 1955, however, Batista released him. Castro immediately went into exile in Mexico where he began to train a group of revolutionaries called the 26th of July Movement. In December 1956, Castro's forces invaded Cuba. The rebels suffered losses, but many were able to escape to the Sierra Maestra, a mountain range in southeast Cuba. From there, Castro was able to direct his revolution. Over the next two years, he gained increasing support from the Cuban people and on January 1, 1959, Batista fled the country.
Shortly after Castro took control of the government, relations with the United States declined. In 1960, he took over U.S. oil refineries in Cuba. The United States then stopped buying Cuban sugar and Castro responded by taking over all U.S. businesses in Cuba. Angered by Castro's actions, President Kennedy, authorized an attempt to overthrow the Cuban dictator in 1961, known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. The invasion failed but made Castro wary of another U.S. attempt. Consequently, when Khrushchev offered to place nuclear missiles in Cuba, he agreed.
Castro's role in the crisis differs greatly from the other two leaders. Once he decided to accept the missiles, he lost control over their fate. Castro was merely a pawn in the international chess match and Cuba was merely a playing field. Neither Castro nor Cuba were of great international importance. The missile confrontation could have taken place anywhere in the world, unfortunately for the Cuban people, it occurred on their island. In the end, Castro had little effect on the outcome of the crisis and felt betrayed by the U.S.S.R. The crisis solved few of Cuba's problems and left the country to deal with the United States alone.
In the 35 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis, Castro has remained in power, outlasting seven American presidents. He has worked to improve education, housing, and health for all Cubans but has suffered from a troubled economy. Cuba's struggle for independence and prosperity continues today.