Political Figure. Born Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz on August 13, 1926, (although some say he was born a year later), near Birán in Cuba’s eastern Oriente province. Fidel Castro was the third of six children: two brothers, Raul and Ramon, and four sisters, Antelita, Juanita, Emma, and Augustina. His father, Angel, was a wealthy sugar plantation owner originally from Spain. His mother, Lina Ruz Gonzalez, had been a maid to Angel’s first wife, Maria Luisa Argota, at the time of Fidel’s birth. By the time Fidel was 15, his father dissolved his first marriage and wed Fidel’s mother. At 17, Fidel was formally recognized by his father and his name was changed from Ruz to Castro.
Educated in private Jesuit boarding schools, Castro grew up in wealthy circumstances amid the poverty of Cuba’s people. He was intellectually gifted but more interested in sports than studies. He attended El Colegio de Belen and pitched for the school’s baseball team. After his graduation in late 1945, Castro entered law school at the University of Havana and became immersed in the political climate of Cuban nationalism, anti-imperialism, and socialism.
In 1947, Castro became increasingly passionate about social justice. He traveled to the Dominican Republic to join an expedition attempting the overthrow of the dictator Rafael Trujillo. The coup failed before it got started, but the incident didn’t dampen Castro’s passion for reform.
Soon after his return to the university in Havana, Castro joined the Partido Ortodoxo, an anticommunist political party founded to reform government corruption in Cuba. Its goals were nationalism, economic independence, and social reforms. Its founder, Cuban presidential candidate Eduardo Chibas, lost the 1948 election. Despite the loss, Chibas inspired Castro to be an ardent disciple. Chibas considered another run for president again in 1951. He hoped to expose the government’s corruption and warn the people about General Fulgencio Batista, a former president who was planning a return to power. But the presidential hopeful’s effort was cut short after supposed allies refused to provide evidence of government wrongdoing. Chibas shot himself during a radio broadcast after his inability to keep his promise.
In 1948, Castro married Mirta Diaz Balart, who was from a wealthy family in Cuba. They had one child, Fidelito. The marriage exposed Castro to a wealthier lifestyle and political connections. Castro pursued his political ambitions as a candidate for a seat in the Cuban parliament, but a coup led by General Fulgencio Batista successfully overthrew the government and cancelled the election. Castro found himself without a legitimate political platform and little income with which to support the family. His marriage to Mirta eventually ended in 1955.
Batista set himself up as dictator, solidified his power with the military and Cuba’s economic elite, and got his government recognized by the United States. Castro, along with fellow members of the Ortodoxo party who expected to win in the 1952 election, organized an insurrection. On July 26, 1953, Castro and approximately 150 supporters attacked the Moncada military barracks in an attempt to overthrow Batista. The attack failed and Castro was captured, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. But the incident fostered an ongoing opposition to the government and made Castro famous throughout Cuba.
Castro was released in 1955 under an amnesty deal with the Batista government. He went to Mexico, where he met Ernesto “Che” Guevara. There he devised a new strategy to overthrow the Batista regime based on guerrilla warfare. Guevara believed that the plight of Latin America’s poor could be rectified only through violent revolution. He joined Castro’s group and became an important confidante, shaping Castro’s political beliefs.