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[fool hen' sE o bah tEs' tah] President of Cuba, 1940-1944 and 1952-1958
Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar was born in Oriente Province, on January 16, 1901, the son of farmers. He joined the army as a Private, but by 1932 had become military tribunal stenographer, with the rank of Sergeant.
On September 4, 1933, Batista led non-commissioned officers in a rebellion against dictator Gerardo Machado. He then appointed himself Chief of the Military and became the de facto leader of Cuba. On June 14, 1934, as a Colonel, Batista forced the resignation of provisional president Ramón Grau San Martín, and appointed Carlos Mendieta in his place; the United States recognized the new government less than a week later. Batista spent the next several years running the government through a series of "puppet presidents" -- Carlos Mendieta (1934-1935), José A. Barnet (1935-1936), Miguel Mariano Gómez (1936), and Federuco Laredo Brú (1936-1940). Under his leadership Cuba adopted a new Constitution that called for government intervention in the economy and provided a social safety net.
In 1940, Batista defeated Ramón Grau San Martín in the first presidential election under the new constitution. He stepped down four years later, however, when Ramón Grau, was elected. He then left Cuba and took up temporary residence in Daytona Beach, Florida.
The next eight years of Cuban politics were marked by widespread corruption, and by 1952 Batista was ready to assume power again. He ran for President that year against two other candidates, but as election day approached polls showed him in a distant third place. On March 10, Batista took matters into his own hands and staged a coup d'etat; his government was recognized by the United States on March 27.
Having again assumed the reins of government, Batista devoted much of his energy to building his own fortune. To that end he opened Havana to large-scale gambling, from which he received a share of the profits, and sponsored massive construction projects. To stem mounting protests, he turned the police into an agency of terror and became well known for turning it against any and all enemies.
The biggest threat to Batista's government didn't come from the general population, however, it came from a small band of revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro. On July 26, 1953, Castro's forces attacked the Moncada Army Barracks in Santiago. Although the attack ultimately failed and most of the revolutionaries were either killed or captured, the danger was far from over. Other revolutionary groups remained active, and discontent continued to grow within the general population.
In 1954, Batista held an election in which he was the only legal candidate. On May 15, 1955, in an attempt to show that he wasn't concerned about public unrest, he released Castro and the other survivors of the Moncada attack.
As Batista's regime became more and more corrupt, the United States became less and less supportive of its former ally. On December 11, 1958, the U.S. Ambassador to Cuba informed Batista that the United States could no longer support him and suggested that he voluntarily step down. On New Years' Eve, Batista, along with 180 of his closest associates, left the country aboard a fleet of private airplanes. Having taken some $300 million with him, he was able to spend the rest of his life in luxury in Spain and Portugal.
Fulgencio Batista died in Marbella, Spain, on August 6, 1973.
This page was last updated on 01/16/2017.