Fulgencio Batista (January 16, 1901 - August 6, 1973) was a Cuban military officer and politician. Batista was the de facto military leader of Cuba from 1933 to 1940, and thus the eminence grise of Cuban politics for that era, and the de jure President of Cuba from 1940 to 1944. After staging a successful coup in 1952, Batista ran unopposed in an election in 1954, and ruled the nation until handing over power on the last day of 1958, the reason given for that event being the political unrest caused mostly by a multi-faction, mainly-student, opposition. Fidel Castro's guerrilla movement was one of the groups involved in this Cuban Revolution.

Fulgencio was born in Banes, Holguín Province, in 1901 to Belisario Batista Palermo and Carmela Zaldívar González, Cubans who fought for independence from Spain. His mother named him Rubén and gave him her last name, Zaldívar. His father did not want to register him as a Batista. In the registration records of the Banes courthouse he was legally Rubén Zaldívar until 1939, when, as Fulgencio Batista, he became a presidential candidate, but it was discovered that this name did not exist. It's alleged that a judge was paid off to fix the discrepancy.

Batista began working from an early age. A self-educated man, he attended nightschool and is said to have been a voracious reader. He bought a ticket to Havana and joined the army in 1921. Sergeant Batista was the union leader of Cuba's soldiers, and the leader of the 1933 "Sergeants' Revolt" that replaced the provisional government of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, at the request of the coalition that had recently ousted President Machado. Céspedes was a well-respected civil engineer and the most successful minister in the Machado government but lacked a political coalition that could sustain him. Initially a presidency composed of five members, one each from the anti-Machado coalition, was created, but within days the representative for the students and professors of the University of Havana, Ramón Grau, was made president and Batista became the Army Chief of Staff, with the rank of colonel, and effectively controlled the presidency. The majority of the commissioned officer corps was "forcefully retired" (meaning executed).[citation needed] During this period, Batista violently suppressed a number of attempts to defeat his control. This included the quashing of an uprising in the ancient Atarés fort (Havana). Many of those who surrendered were executed. Another attempt was the attack on the Hotel Nacional in which former army officers of the Cuban Olympic rifle team put up stiff resistance until being defeated. There were many other often minor and almost unrecorded attempted revolts against Batista that were bloodily suppressed. Grau was president for just over 100 days before Batista forced him to resign in January 1934. He was replaced by Carlos Mendieta y Montefur and within five days the U.S. recognised Cuba's new government, which lasted 11 months. Succeeding governments were led by José Barnet y Vinajeras (5 months) and Miguel Mariano Gómez (7 months) before Federico Laredo Brú managed to rule from December 1936 to October 1940. Batista was well liked by American interests, who had feared Grau's socialistic reforms and saw him as a stabilizing force with respect for American interests. It was in this time period that Batista formed a renowned friendship and business relationship with gangster Meyer Lansky that lasted over three decades. Through Lansky, the Mafia knew they had a friend in Cuba. Gangster Lucky Luciano, after being deported to Italy in 1946, went to Havana with a false passport. One of his most bitter opponents, Antonio Guiteras (founder of the student group Joven Cuba) was gunned down by government forces in 1935 while waiting for a boat in Matanzas province. Others just seemed to disappear into thin air.

Batista's chance to sit in the president's chair came in 1940. Supported by a coalition of political parties, which included the old Cuban Communist Party, he defeated his rival Grau in the first presidential election under the new Cuban constitution. Following Grau's election in 1944, Cuba experienced its first peaceful transfer of power in two decades.

While living luxuriously in Daytona Beach, Florida, Batista ran for and won a seat in the Cuban Senate in 1948. Four years later, he ran for president, but a poll published in the December 1951 issue of the popular magazine "Bohemia" showed him in last place. Not expected to win, Batista staged a coup. The 1952 election was a three-way race. Roberto Agramonte of the Ortodoxos party led in all the polls, followed by Dr. Aurelio Hevia of the Auténtico party, and running a distant third was Batista, who was seeking a return to office. Both front runners, Agramonte and Hevia in their own camps, had decided to name Col. Ramón Barquín who was a diplomat in Washington DC to head the Cuban Armed Forces after the elections. Barquín was a top officer who commanded the respect of the professional army and had promised to eliminate corruption in the ranks. Batista feared that Barquín would oust him and his followers, and when it became apparent that Batista had little chance of winning, he staged a coup on 10 March 1952 and held power with the backing of a nationalist section of the army as a provisional president for the next two years. Justo Carrillo told Barquín in Washington DC on March 1952 that the inner circles knew that Batista had aimed the coup at him; they immediately began to conspire to oust Batista and reestablish the democracy and civilian government in what was later dubbed La Conspiración de los Puros de 1956 (Agrupación Montecristi).

On March 10, 1952, almost twenty years after the Revolt of the Sergeants, Batista took over the government once more, this time against elected Cuban president Carlos Prío Socarrás. The coup took place three months before the upcoming elections that he was sure to lose. Also running in that election (for a different office) was a young attorney named Fidel Castro. Batista declared that, although he was completely loyal to Cuba's constitution of 1940, constitutional guarantees would have to be temporarily suspended, as well as the right to strike.

Batista opened the way for large-scale gambling in Havana. He announced that his government would match, dollar for dollar, any hotel investment over $1 million, which would include a casino license. Havana became the "Latin Las Vegas," a playground of choice for many gamblers. All opposition was swiftly and violently crushed, and many began to fear the new government.

Just over a year after Batista's second coup, a small group of revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago on July 26, 1953. The rebellion was easily crushed. Many who led the revolt died, and Fidel Castro along with other participants were jailed. Due to growing popular opposition and unrest, manifested by the Cuban people with increasing acts of civil disobedience, and in order to appease the growing concerns in Washington, DC, Batista held an election in 1954 in which he was the only legal candidate. Without opposition, he obviously won, becoming president of Cuba in 1954, prompting yet even more waves of civil unrest. The distinguished Colonel Cosme de la Torriente, a surviving veteran of the Cuban War of Independence, emerged in late 1955 to offer compromise. A series of meetings led by de la Torriente became known as "El Diálogo Cívico" (the civic dialogue). On May 15, 1955, Batista unexpectedly released Fidel Castro and the remaining survivors of the Moncada attack, hoping to dissuade some of his critics. Within weeks it was rumoured that Batista's military police were out to kill Castro, prompting Fidel to flee to Mexico and plan his forthcoming revolution. By late 1955, student riots and anti-Batista demonstrations had become frequent. These were dealt with in the violent manner his military police had come to represent. Students attempting to march from the University of Havana were stopped and beaten by the police. Batista suspended constitutional guarantees and established tighter censorship of the media. His military police would patrol the streets and pick up anyone suspected of insurrection. By the end of 1955 they had grown more prone to violent acts of brutality and torture, with no fear of legal repercussions. In March 1956, Batista refused to consider a proposal calling for elections by the end of the year. He was confident that he could defeat any revolutionary attempt from the many factions who opposed him.

In April 1956, Batista had given the orders for Barquín to become General and Chief of the Army. But it was too late. Even after Barquín was informed, he decided to move forward with the coup to rescue the morale of the armed forces and the Cuban people. On April 6, 1956, a coup by hundreds of career officers led by Colonel Barquín (then Vice Chair of the Inter-American Defence Board in Washington, DC and Cuban Military Attache of Sea, Air and Land to the US) was frustrated by Lieutenant Ríos Morejón, who betrayed the plan. The coup broke the backbone of the Cuban armed forces when Batista tried in vain to negotiate the denial of the so-called conspiracy. The officers were sentenced to the maximum terms allowed by Cuban martial law. Barquín was sentenced to solitary confinement for 8 years. La Conspiración de los Puros resulted in the imprisonment of the top commanders of the armed forces and the closing of the military academies. Barquín was the founder of La Escuela Superior de Guerra (Cuba's war college) and past director of La Escuela de Cadetes (Cuba's military academy). Without Barquín's officers the army could not sustain a fight.

Batista continued to rule without concerns, even after the landing of the Granma in December of 1956 (which brought the Castro brothers back to Cuba along with Che Guevara marking the start of the armed conflict). Due to its continued opposition to Batista, the University of Havana was temporarily closed on November 30, 1956. (It would not reopen until early 1959, after a revolutionary victory). Another election in 1958 placed Andrés Rivero Agüero in the president's chair, but losing the support of the U.S. government meant his days in power were numbered. On January 1, 1959, after formally resigning his position in Cuba's government he boarded a plane at 3 a.m. at Camp Colombia and flew to Ciudad Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Throughout the night various flights out of Camp Colombia took Batista's friends and high officials to Miami, New York, New Orleans and Jacksonville.

Batista later moved to the Madeira, then Estoril, outside Lisbon, Portugal, where he lived and wrote books the rest of his life. He died of heart attack on August 6, 1973 at Guadalmina, near Marbella, Spain, having never faced a court.

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