A Cuban revolutionary leader, Raúl fought and ruled alongside his brother Fidel and in 2008 took permanent control of the Cuban state. Like Fidel, he is an enemy of U.S. interventions in Latin America.
Raúl was born into the union formed by Angel Castro and Lina Ruz. His early schooling took place in the Jesuit school Colegio Dolores in Santiago de Cuba. Later, he also attended the Colegio de Belén in the city of Havana. He started his university studies at the University of Havana but never finished. After the Cuban Revolution set in, he married Vilma Espín, his companion during his days as a guerrilla leader in the Sierra Maestra mountains.
While a student at the University of Havana, Castro became a member of the Juventud Socialista (Socialist Youth). He participated in the World Youth Congress in Vienna and visited several Soviet satellite states. When he returned from his Eastern European trip in the 1950s, Castro became involved with his brother Fidel in his revolt against the corrupt Batista dictatorship.
On July 26, 1953, Raúl, Fidel, and a band of about 150 followers attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba in the easternmost province of the island, Oriente. The assault was a disaster, and the attackers surrendered. Though some were executed, the Castro brothers were spared and instead were sent to prison for 13 years. This raid gave rise to the name of the movement that would lead the revolution, the 26th of July Movement.
In May 1955, a general amnesty was declared by the Batista government against all political prisoners, and the Castro brothers and their compañeros were released. Castro and the rest of the band left Cuba and headed for Mexico. By late 1956, the Castro brothers and some 80 followers left Mexico aboard the yacht Granma and landed in Oriente. Though most of the landing party was killed, Castro, Fidel, and 12 others escaped to the Sierra Maestra.
Castro was given the rank of major while in the Sierra Maestra and eventually opened a second front in the northeastern section of Oriente Province. Castro gained a reputation as ruthless, associated particularly with his attitude toward persons from the United States. The long history of U.S. exploitation of Cuba made the United States a convenient target for the revolutionary fervor of the movement's leaders. Castro displayed his anti–North American beliefs in the summer of 1958, when he kidnapped some North Americans from nearby plantations and mines and held them hostage for a few weeks. He did not comply with an order from his brother Fidel to release the prisoners and held them until they complied with his demands in July 1958.
The revolution increased Raúl's resolve against U.S. intervention because most of the Batista's fighting was done with U.S. surplus aircraft in small bombing raids that accomplished very little militarily but drove many Cuban citizens over to the side of the guerrillas. Once the U.S. government withdrew its support of Batista and ceased to send arms, the dictator was unable to resist further and fled to exile in the Dominican Republic. On January 1, 1959, the triumphant forces of Fidel and Raúl marched into Havana to the jubilant reception of the Cuban people.
As the head of the military, Raúl Castro became a very powerful man. It fell to him to transform the Cuban military into a modern and efficient force with the monetary and tactical help of Soviet advisers. It also fell to him to ensure the ideological commitment of his troops to the goals of the revolution.
Part of the revolutionary ideology of the Cuban leadership included the extension of socialist revolution throughout the rest of Latin America and the world. While Castro did not leave Cuba to command Cuban forces in other countries, he was in charge of training an army that could venture far afield and did so throughout the 1970s, particularly in Africa.
In addition to gaining the rank of general, Castro also became an important leader of the Communist Party, which controlled most political activity in Cuba for many years. On July 31, 2006, Raúl was handed temporary power of the country while Fidel underwent intestinal surgery. As Fidel recovered over the next two years, Raúl quietly held power in Cuba, largely staying out of the limelight as Fidel's health continued to be a major story internationally and domestically. In February 2008, Fidel publicly declared that he would resign the presidency in light of his poor physical condition. Raúl became Cuba's head of state.
Raúl is seen as being more practical than Fidel in regard to economic matters—in 1993 he helped push for economic reforms after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, when it comes to charisma or diplomacy, Raúl is not considered Fidel's equal, which may prove to be an important consideration in a country where a cult of personality has been fostered since 1959.
See also: Castro, Fidel; Cuba; Cuba, U.S. Response to (1956–1960)
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