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The Search for Stability, The Batista Dictatorship

revolutionary groups, radical action, Fidel Castro, revolutionary movement, Batista

In 1952 Batista returned from the United States to run for president. When it became apparent that he did not have strong support among voters, Batista organized a bloodless military takeover and became dictator. Batista, however, found that the situation was very different than it had been at the time of his earlier coup in 1934, when he had considerable popular support and was able to build a successful coalition of political groups. In 1952 he faced Cuban citizens who respected their constitution. Organizations opposed to Batista seemed to appear everywhere. Most of these groups had one goal: the removal of Batista. Only university students, the Communists, and Fidel Castro articulated programs for a post-Batista government.

In 1953 Castro attracted a following of young people who shared his desire to topple Batista and reinstate the constitution. On July 26, Castro and 150 armed followers entered the Moncada Military Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Guards set off an alarm and quickly captured the attackers. Castro and several dozen men escaped, but were later arrested. The army brutally tortured and killed 68 insurgents, an act that made heroes and martyrs of Castro’s group.

Castro defended his action in a court hearing, arguing that the government, not his movement, was in violation of constitutional law because it took power illegally and because it had committed atrocities against defenseless prisoners. In a courtroom speech, he promised to lead a revolution that would oversee land reform, industrialization, housing construction, greater employment opportunities, and expanded health and welfare services. After a brief deliberation, a tribunal sentenced Castro to 15 years in prison.

Other revolutionary groups contested Batista’s dictatorship. The Federation of University Students organized rallies and called for Batista’s removal. Most of the students came from the middle class, and although they sympathized with the problems of workers, they did not formulate policies to assist them. In 1955 some of these students concluded that radical action was needed to remove Batista from office. They founded the Revolutionary Directorate to carry out bloody clashes with the army and to attempt to assassinate Batista.

In 1954 Batista won the presidential election, running unopposed after other parties refused to participate. The following year he felt confident enough to free all political prisoners, including Castro. Castro soon left for Mexico with a small number of followers to plan a revolutionary movement they would call the 26th of July Movement (M-26) after the date of the Moncada Barracks assault.

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