Episodes in Power

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Revolution Begins: On July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro led a rebel attack on the Moncada Barracks in the southeastern town of Santiago de Cuba. Although the attack failed and resulted in Castro's imprisonment, it established him as a revolutionary figure in Cuba. After organizing Cuban exiles in Mexico, Castro returned to Cuba and launched a new phase of his campaign, which ultimately brought him to power.

Triumph in Havana: Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, having lost the support of the U.S. government and facing widespread opposition in his own country, resigned on Jan. 1, 1959, and fled Havana on a night flight. Castro entered the capital a week later and was named prime minister the next month. His supporters began executing hundreds of people associated with the Batista government. As Castro began to expropriate land and businesses, the U.S. government instituted a series of trade and travel restrictions that have continued and expanded.

The Missile Crisis: In August 1962, U.S. officials received intelligence, including photographs from U-2 aircraft, of Soviet missile installations and other military equipment in Cuba. The Kennedy administration demanded that the Soviet Union remove the weapons. Soviet resistance resulted in the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, which threatened to engulf the two nuclear powers in war. After a U.S. naval blockade and a pledge by the United States not to invade the island, the Soviet Union withdrew its missiles. The crisis contributed to the downfall of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Che Departs: Ernesto "Che" Guevara fought with the July 26 Movement after Castro's return from Mexico. He rose to a senior position in the new government and supervised many executions in the early phase of Castro's rule. On Oct. 3, 1965, Castro publicly read a "Farewell Letter" by Guevara in which he renounced formal ties with Cuba to devote himself to revolutions abroad. In Bolivia, Guevara and a small band of rebels were defeated by national forces receiving U.S. assistance. Guevara, who was captured, was executed on Oct. 9, 1967.

A Disappointing Harvest: On Jan. 2, 1969, 10 years almost to the day after his forces took over Havana, Castro announced a goal for 1970 of harvesting 10 million tons of sugar, Cuba's main export and source of foreign currency. (The previous record was 6.5 million tons.) Despite a large investment, the harvest fell 1.5 million tons short of the goal. The diversion of resources and labor to sugar production caused shortages in food, clothing and other goods. On July 26, 1970, Castro said the Cuban people had the right to change leadership.

The Mariel Boatlift: In April 1980, the Cuban government granted broad permission for people to leave the country. Tens of thousands of Cubans, fleeing economic hardship, began traveling in small boats from the port of Mariel. In the next seven months, about 125,000 Cubans arrived in the United States. Castro was accused of using the Mariel boatlift as a way to rid Cuba of criminals and mentally disturbed people, along with political dissidents.

Troops in Angola: Upon Angola's independence from Portugal in 1975, Cuba deployed troops to the southern African country in support of Marxist factions. The Cuban presence embroiled Angola in a Cold War conflict between Soviet and Western interests.

Officers Executed: On July 13, 1989, Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and Col. Antonio de la Guardia were executed by firing squad, having been convicted on charges of drug smuggling in a highly publicized trial. The trial and execution of the prominent Cubans was considered by many to be a political contrivance aimed at strengthening Castro's grip on power.

The Elián González Saga: On Thanksgiving Day 1999, 5-year-old Elián González was found three miles off the Florida coast, one of three survivors of a journey from Cuba in a small boat. His mother drowned. Elián's father, still in Cuba, wanted the boy returned despite the wishes of Elián's relatives in Miami. The resulting dispute over political asylum and family rights also became a political tug of war involving the U.S. government, the Cuban government and anti-Castro factions in the United States. After a long court battle, armed federal agents seized the boy on April 22, 2000. Elián was subsequently returned to his father in Cuba.

Ally in Venezuela: Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez began a political relationship in 1994, not long after Chávez was released from prison after attempting a coup. When Chávez was elected president, he and Castro initiated strong economic ties, including subsidized Venezuelan oil. They have frequently criticized what they call U.S. interference in the affairs of each other's nations.

SOURCES: Staff reports, Reuters, Facts on File, National Security Archive, Encyclopaedia Britannica

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