|Next: Bay of Pigs|
|Date: 26 July 1953-1 January 1959|
|Outcome: Communist victory|
The Cuban Revolution was an armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro's communist 26th of July Movement and its allies against Fulgencio Batista's conservative authoritarian regime. The revolution began in July 1953 with a failed rebel attack on the Moncada Barracks, but it resumed in 1957 when the exiled Fidel Castro, his brother Raul Castro, and their fellow commander Che Guevara returned to Cuba on the ship Granma and reignited the revolution. On 31 December 1958, the rebels ousted Batista from power, and the rebels entered Havana on 1 January 1959.
Following independence from the United States on 20 May 1902, Cuba endured a number of revolts, coups, and US military occupation. From 1940 to 1944, former soldier Fulgencio Batista served as the elected President of Cuba, but he became President once again in 1952 after seizing power in a coup. Originally a progressive, after his coup Batista became more dictatorial and indifferent to popular concerns, and his conservative Progressive Action Party was the only party which was able to contest elections. Batista became a strong United States ally, allowing for American companies (especially the United Fruit Company and the casino industry) and the American Mafia to prosper from Cuba; at the same time, however, poverty and corruption became rampant.
In 1952, the young lawyer Fidel Castro and his brother Fidel Castro began to support the removal of Batista from power, and they recruited 1,200 members of the disgruntled working-class for "The Movement", their revolutionary group. On 23 July 1956, they stormed the Moncada Barracks with the goal of starting a revolution, but the numerically superior Cuban Army crushed the uprising, and most of the rebels, including commander Abel Santamaria, were executed. Fidel Castro spoke for four hours in his defense at his trial, famously stating, "History will absolve me." He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while Raul was sentenced to 13 years; in 1955, under broad political pressure, the Batista government freed all political prisoners, including the Mariel Barracks rebels.
The Castro brothers went on to join with other rebels in Mexico to prepare for the overthrow of Batista, and they were trained by Spanish Civil War veteran Alberto Bayo. In June 1955, Castro met the Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, who joined his cause, and the revolutionaries named themselves the "26th of July Movement" to commemorate the date of the Moncada Barracks attack.
At 12:20 PM on 29 April 1956, an independent group of 100 guerrillas under Reynol Garcia attacked the Goicuria Barracks in Matanzas, but 10 rebels and 3 soldiers were killed in the fighting, while one rebel was summarily executed. On 2 December 1956, the Castro brothers and 80 other guerrillas arrived in Cuba aboard the yacht Granma, which was only supposed to carry 25 men. The rebels made their way into the Sierra Maestra mountains of southeastern Cuba, and most of them were killed by Batista's army three days later; no more than 20 of the 82 original men survived the first three days. Sporadic fighting began to break out as other rebel groups rose up against Batista, who deployed the bulk of his army to the Sierra Maestra mountains. The USA, which grew tired of Batista's authoritarian rule, imposed an economic embargo on the Cuban government and recalled its ambassador. However, the Mafia and American businessmen continued to control the regime.
While Batista used sheer brutality to keep the cities in line, the 26th of July guerrillas attacked small garrisons near the Sierra Maestra mountains, scoring small victories. Castro's forces, less than 200-strong, faced 37,000 Cuban soldiers and police, but Castro's guerrillas defeated an army of 12,000 soldiers sent into the mountains to defeat the rebels; half of the Cuban soldiers were untrained. From 11 to 21 July 1958, Castro's men defeated a 500-man battalion at La Plata, capturing 240 while losing just three men. On 29 July, Batista almost destroyed Castro's 300-man army at Las Mercedes, but Castro narrowly escaped. Castro's forces, which had survived the Cuban government offensive, were able to acquire captured weapons, as well as weapons airdropped to them. The Castro brothers and Juan Almeida Bosque directed attacks on four fronts, and Camilo Cienfuegos defeated the army at Yaguajay on 30 December 1958. On 31 December, Guevara and Cienfuegos captured the city of Santa Clara, and Batista fled to the Dominican Republic on 1 January 1959. Cienfuegos fell on 2 January, and Santiago de Cuba and Havana both fell that same day. On 8 January 1959, Castro himself entered the capital of Havana.
Castro was initially popular in the United States, as he rejected the label of "communist", and he was seen as a revolutionary hero. Hundreds of Batista-era agents, policemen, and soldiers were put on trial, while 200 of the accused were executed by firing squad. Castro initiated progressive reforms such as granting equal rights to black Cubans, giving greater rights to women, improving the country's infrastructure and arts, and ensuring that all Cuban children had access to education. In 1965, the Communist Party of Cuba was founded to unite the communist forces in the country, and Castro would remain the leader of Cuba until his retirement in 2008; he died in 2016.