Batista y Zaldívar, Fulgencio
by Aimee Estill
Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar maintained direct and indirect influence and power in the
Cuban government for over twenty-five years. Batista's first term of presidency was
characterized with "strong leadership that fostered economic growth." Batista is
better known for his second presidency, however, which was characterized by the forceful
and oppressive means in which he ruled Cuba as well as corruption in the government. His
second presidency left Cuba in turmoil and disaster, opening the door for Fidel Castro to
Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar was born in Banes, Cuba in 1901 to
parents of mixed descent. His parents, who's mixed ancestry included that of
"Negro, white, Indian, and Chinese," lived and worked on a sugar plantation as
peasant laborers. Batista was educated at an American Quaker School; after his education,
he worked in a variety of trades. Then, in 1921, he joined the Cuban National Army. After
two years of active duty in the army, he resigned and started clerical work for the Cuban
National Army. By 1932, he was a military court stenographer and obtained the rank of
On September 4, 1933, Batista took control of the Cuban government in
an uprising known as the "Revolt of the Sergeants," Batista's
first coup overthrew Gerardo Machado's liberal government. After the first coup,
Carlos Manuel de Céspedes was in power for three weeks. After those three weeks, Cuba was
ruled by a Council of Five; on September 10, 1933, with Batista's support, Ramón Grau San Martín was installed as head of the government for a four-month period. Grau was
a professor at the University of Havana and was a "hero of the student leftists." On January 14, 1934, Ramón Grau San Martín was replaced by Carlos Mendieta. On January 19, 1934, the United States recognized Cuba's new government. This
overthrow also marked the start of the army's influence "as an organized force
in the running of the government." Batista also appointed himself as Army Chief of
Staff. As Army Chief of Staff, Batista increased the army's size and power; Batista
then used the military to consolidate his power in the Cuban government.
He also became "de facto ruler" and launched a three-year
plan that included "economic and social rehabilitation." Batista's plan
included creating "a new, modern, democratic Cuba." He also wanted
"immediate elimination from public life of parasites and full punishment for the
atrocities and corruption of the previous Machado regime, strict recognition of the debts
and obligations contracted by the Republic, and immediate creation of adequate courts to
enforce the measures above mentioned."
Until 1940, Batista ruled Cuba through various puppet presidents, including Carlos
Mendieta, José A. Barnet, Miguel Mariano Gómez, and Federuco Laredo Brú. Batista had
started a "thirty-year tradition of corruption."
During this time, Batista was viewed as a "stabilizing force with
respect for American interests." Batista also started a friendship with American
gangster Meyer Lansky. This friendship would last over thirty years and would lead to
corruption in the Cuban government.
In 1940, Batista ran with centrist support in the first presidential
election under a new Cuban constitution. He defeated Grau San Martín in the election and
became the Cuban constitutional president. Batista's presidency would last until
1944. During his term in office, Batista "sponsored several reforms that spurred
economic growth." Batista increased trade relations with the United States and also
imposed war taxes on the Cuban people. Batista was supported by the army and also gained
control of several labor groups.
In the 1944 election, Grau San Martín won the presidency and took
control. Batista was not allowed under law to run for reelection. He left Cuba and went to
the United States, only to return in 1949.
While in Florida in 1948, Batista ran for and won a seat in the Cuban Senate. Batista
"spent huge sums to get himself elected Senator from Las Villas Province; he planted
his men in the mass organizations (some of them were communists who worked with him
previously). He organized support in the army, the governmental bureaucracy among the
landlords, industrialists, and the bankers. He cleverly took advantage of the widespread
venality and colossal corruption of former administrations and promised democratic
In 1952, he ran for President of Cuba once more. However, on March 10,
1952, before the elections took place, Batista staged another coup and overthrew Carlos
Prío Socorras, the elected Cuban President. Polls taken prior to the coup stated that
Batista was unlikely to win the election. On March 27, President Dwight D. Eisenhower
recognized Batista's government.
After his return to the Presidency, Batista declared that,
"although he was completely loyal to Cuba's constitution of 1940, constitutional
guarantees would have to be temporarily suspended." Batista was quickly becoming a
dictator of Cuba. Under Batista, Havana became known as the "Latin Las Vegas"
due to the influx of wealthy gamblers. Also, "very little was said about democracy or
the rights of the average Cuban." Any opposition to Batista's government was
quickly stopped, which caused many to fear Batista's new government.
On July 26, 1953, a small revolutionary group, led by Fidel Castro,
attacked the Moncada Army Barracks in Santiago. This revolution was easily defeated by
Batista, and Castro was placed in jail.
Havana, with influences from U. S. mafia boss Meyer Lansky, became known as an
international drug port. Batista and many other Cuban officials reaped the profits from
the drug trade as well as from the casinos.
Many Cubans, as well as many Americans, were upset with Batista's
government. To appease these people, Batista staged a mock election in 1954; he was the
only legal candidate. Naturally, he won, but Cubans wanted new and legitimate elections.
In 1955 a compromise was offered by Colonel Cosme de la Torriente, a
veteran of the Cuban War of Independence. Several meetings were held, which became known
as "El Diálago Cívico"; however, Batista was too strong to make any
concessions. Batista was very confident in his power; he was so confident that he
released Castro from jail in an attempt to "dissuade some of his critics."
Batista suspended constitutional guarantees and took more control over
the media in an effort to end student riots and anti-Batista demonstrations that were
being held. Also increasing opposition to Batista and leading to several uprising were the
economic depressions faced by Cuba in the 1950s. However, there seem to be some positive
changes in Cuba that arose from Batista's second Presidency. One article stated that
Batista "abolished the death penalty, granted amnesty to his political opponents
including Castro, and presided over the most prosperous economy in Latin America in the
1950's. Cuba had developed these enormous centros, or clubs with memberships ranging from
ten to ninety thousand people. For around three dollars a month, members enjoyed health,
educational, and recreational benefits. In fact, according to the U. S. Dept. Of Commerce,
Cuba had developed excellent health care and high educational standards including
In 1956, Batista refused to hold another election at the end of the
year. In 1958, another fake election was held, and Batista placed another puppet president
at the head of the government. Batista's government was also losing the United
States' support. On January 1, 1959, Batista resigned from the Cuban government and
handed over his power to representatives; the door was opened for Castro to the Revolution
of 1959. Batista fled to the Dominican Republic. He later went to Portugal and then died
in Guadalamina, Spain on August 6,1973.