Batista y Zaldívar, Fulgencio (1901–1973)

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Batista y Zaldívar, Fulgencio (1901–1973)

Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar (b. 16 January 1901; d. 6 August 1973), the Cuban army's strongman in the 1930s, elected president in the 1940s, and dictator in the 1950s. The son of a farm and railroad laborer, Batista was born in Banes, Oriente Province. He spent his early years in poverty and attended a Quaker missionary school. At twenty he joined the Cuban army because it offered an opportunity for upward mobility. He attended evening classes at the National School of Journalism, from which he graduated. In 1928 he was promoted to sergeant and assigned as stenographer at Camp Columbia in Havana.

The deepening economic depression and the overthrow of Gerardo Machado's dictatorship in 1933 had released a wave of uncontrolled anger and anxiety. Unhappy with a proposed reduction in pay and an order restricting their promotions, the lower echelons of the army began to conspire. On 4 September 1933, Batista, together with anti-Machado student leaders, assumed the leadership of the movement, arrested army officers, and overthrew the provisional government of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. They appointed a five-man junta (the Pentarchy) to rule Cuba and, on 10 September, named Ramón Grau San Martín as provisional president. Grau's nationalistic and revolutionary regime was opposed by the United States, which refused to recognize it. Batista soon became a colonel and chief of staff of the army.

On 14 January 1934, the alliance between students and the military collapsed. Batista forced Grau to resign, thus frustrating the revolutionary process that had begun with Machado's overthrow. Batista ruled through puppet presidents until 1940, when he was elected president. Desiring to win popular support, he sponsored an impressive body of welfare legislation. Public administration, health, education, and public works improved. He legalized the Cuban Communist Party and in 1943 established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Immediately following the Pearl Harbor attack, Batista brought Cuba into World War II on the Allied side. Air and naval bases were made available to the United States, which purchased all of Cuba's sugar production and provided generous loans and grants. In 1944 Batista allowed the election of his former rival, Grau San Martín.

Batista settled in Daytona Beach, Florida, where he wrote Sombras de América (published in Mexico in 1946). In 1948, while still in Florida, he was elected to the Cuban Senate from Santa Clara province. He returned to Cuba that same year, organized his own party, and announced his presidential candidacy for the June 1952 elections. On 10 March 1952, however, Batista, joined by a group of army officers, overthrew the constitutionally elected regime of President Carlos Prío Socarrás. Batista suspended Congress and the 1940 constitution, canceled the elections, and dissolved all political parties. University students soon began to show their opposition by rioting and demonstrating. On 26 July 1953, young revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro unsuccessfully attacked the Moncada military barracks in Oriente Province. Some of the attackers were killed and others, including Castro, were jailed.

In a rigged election in November 1954, Batista was reelected for a four-year term. Corruption in his administration reached unprecedented proportions, leading students to increase their protests. After his release from prison in 1956, the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro went to Mexico to prepare an expedition that landed in Cuba in December of that year and began guerrilla operations. On 13 March 1957, an attack on the Presidential Palace by students and followers of deposed President Prío nearly succeeded in killing Batista. The Batista government met terrorism with counterterrorism. By 1958 national revulsion against Batista had developed. Finally, defections from the army precipitated the fall of the regime on 1 January 1959. Batista escaped to the Dominican Republic and later to Madeira. He died at Guadalmina, near Marbella, Spain.

See alsoCuba, Revolutions: Revolution of 1933; Cuba, Twenty-Sixth of July Movement; Military Dictatorships: Since 1945.


Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (1971).

Jaime Suchlicki, Historical Dictionary of Cuba (1988) and Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, 3d ed. (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Argote-Freyre, Frank. Fulgencio Batista. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006.

Fuente, Alejandro de la. A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Whitney, Robert. State and Revolution in Cuba: Mass Mobilization and Political Change, 1920–1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

                                     Jaime Suchlicki