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Fulgencio Batista: Cuba’s Military Dictator


Let’s play a game. If I say ‘Cuba’ and then I mention a leader
who ratified a constitution backed by the people, instituted land reforms, legalised
the Communist Party, cooperated with the trade unions and actively opposed Fascism …
[each point appears on screen with a ‘ping!’: Constitution
Land reforms Communist party
Trade unions Vs Fascism]
… who comes to mind? Fidel Castro? Che Guevara? Yeah, sure. But one man did it all 19 years before they
came to power. None other than their sworn rival, Cuban dictator
Fulgencio Batista. Confused? You should! But keep on watching to learn more about the
complex life of a man who rose from the very bottom of the social scale, ended up ruling
the 4th largest economy in Latin America, made an alliance with the Mafia, escaped an
assassination attempt thanks to Santería magical practices and eventually fled at dawn
with three cargo planes filled with loot. Humble origins
Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar, [Full-hen-theo Batista ee Thull-dee-var]
Was born on the 16th of January 1901 from a family of impoverished farmers in Banes,
Cuba, not far from the estate in which Fidel Castro would come to life in a wealthy household
of land owners. This was only 3 years after Cuba had gained
freedom from Spain’s colonial dominance, following the Hispano-American War. In 1898 the US congress had passed the Teller
amendment granting full independence to Cuba, but this was partially revoked by the Platt
amendment of 1901 which gave power to the US Government to intervene in the nation island
if American interests were threatened. And Washington had plenty of motivations to
be involved in Cuban politics – 30 to 50 Million to be precise: as early as 1896 President
Grover Cleveland stated that American investments in Cuban sugar cane plantations, railroads,
mining and other enterprises amounted to 30 to 50 MLN $. That’s up to 1.5 Billion in
today’s money. As a result, Cuban politics, economy and society
were often in turmoil, badly managed by a string of corrupt Presidents who ruled to
please the land owner elite with substantial US backing. Just as an example, consider the story of
the PIC, Partido Independiente de Color – or Coloured Independent Party, founded by Afro-Cuban
veterans of the war against Spain. In 1908 the Party won enough votes to threaten
the rule of the then President Gomez, to which he reacted by disbanding it. As a pretext, he cited a law which forbade
the creation of parties based on race – a law which was made to protect the ruling white
Cuban elite. When the PIC staged a revolt, Gomez launched
a bloody crackdown, backed by the regular Army and US troops sent to protect American
interests. 5000 Afro-Cubans died in the struggle, many
of them lynched by mobs who had been stirred to attack any citizen of colour. This was the country in which young Fulgencio
tried to make his way. Batista had a mixed ancestry: Spanish, African,
Chinese, and native Caribbean. How could he, an impoverished rural half-caste,
a mulatto[TA1] , how could he possibly leave his mark in a Cuba dominated by white land
owners? One such way was the Army, which he joined
in 1921 as a private, more out of necessity than as a vocational choice. Young Fulgencio had ambitions, in fact, and
his service in the army helped him support his studies as a stenographer and a journalist. While stationed in the Wajay suburb of Havana,
Private Batista met and fell in love with a girl called Elisa Godinez Gomez. She came from a similar rural background and
had moved to the city after her father got a job in a psychiatric hospital. Fulgencio and Elisa married on the 10th of
July 1926 and they would go on to have three children: Mirta, Fulgencio Ruben and Elisa
Aleida. But apparently Batista was not fully satisfied
by married life and went on to have at least two officially recognised affairs: the first
one, with the mother of a girl called Fermina, born out of wedlock, whom he would legally
recognise. The second one with a lady called Marta Fernandez,
but more on this later. In 1928 the private became Sergeant Batista
and was assigned to the barracks of Camp Columbia, in Havana. It was here that he first made contact with
fellow servicemen who secretly opposed the rule of President Gerardo Machado [Her-ar-doe
Match-add-aw] . Thanks to his personal charisma he developed a large network of followers
which placed him at the centre of the conspirator circles. Sergeants in Revolt
President Machado had been in power since 1925 and had started with good intentions:
putting an end to the Platt Agreement and US interference as well as transforming Cuba
into the “Switzerland of the Americas”. But a recession in 1928, worsened by the Wall
Street crash of 1929, led to political instability and growing opposition from students, trade
unions and the military. In July 1933, US envoy Sumner Welles went
‘full Platt’ on Machado and made him step aside, helping install new President Carlos
Manuel de Cespedes [Thess-payh-dayhs] . The new guy had just finished unpacking his brief
case when he was ousted by the “Revolt of the Sergeants” in September. By the way: if at any point during this video
you lose count of the Cuban presidents coming and going, don’t worry – so did the Cubans. But back to the Sergeants: their leader was
none other than Fulgencio Batista, who had seized the occasion to rise through the ranks
and stick it to Uncle Sam in one single action. And you must give credit to the man in this
occasion: an army Sergeant has formal authority over 10 to 30 soldiers at best, that is why
military coups are carried out by Colonels or Generals with thousands of troops under
their orders. And yet he had managed to lead a successful
revolt based only on charisma and informal leadership. Batista and the Sergeants replaced Cespedes
with new President Professor Ramón Grau San Martín [Grr-ou as in ‘ouch’] while Fulgencio
gave himself a promotion and became Chief of Staff of the Army with the rank of Colonel. Batista the Puppet Master
In the following years the newly appointed Colonel Batista would hold power in the shadows,
pulling strings to make or break presidencies. And to further his plans he did not mind cooperating
with the US from the start. For example, in late 1933 Professor Grau launched
some attempts at reform but his time in office was characterised by social instability and
constant opposition. After only 100 days Grau received the deluxe
Platt treatment by Sumner Welles with Batista’s full support and cooperation: Cuba needed
stability and Grau was not the right man. Batista then handed over the presidency on
Colonel Carlos Mendieta [Men-dee-ay-tah], who had the approval of most factions, and
most importantly of the U.S. In June 1934 President Roosevelt concluded
a treaty with Cuba that finally abrogated once and for all the Platt Amendment. This was not the end of American interference
in Cuban affairs but at least it wasn’t formally sanctioned any more. FDR may have also realised that political
factions in Cuba had been exploiting the amendment to their advantage, by creating unrest to
trigger American interventions on their side. More presidents came and went under Batista: Barnet. [Ping on screen: Barnet – 6 months]
Arias. [Arias – 6 months]
Bru. [Bru – 3 years 10 months]
Well done, Bru! Out of the shadows
President Bru’s term in office takes us to October 1940, a time for new elections. Tired of being the power in the shadows, Batista
finally decided to run for the presidency, supported by a coalition which included the
Cuban Communist Party, which himself had legalised in the previous decade. His main opponent in the 1940 election was
an old acquaintance, Professor Grau. And this is when Colonel Fulgencio Batista,
the former and future leader of revolts and coups, stepped into power as a democratically
elected representative of the people. One can only imagine the sense of achievement
felt by this son of farm labourers who became a soldier, then a Sergeant, a Colonel, the
driving force behind Cuba’s string of rulers, and finally its first non-white President
in a country historically ruled by sugar cane tycoons of European descent. Batista’s presidential term, from 1940 to
1944 is generally viewed in a positive light by historians. During this period Batista oversaw the drafting
of a new constitution: a progressive document which called for government intervention in
the economy and provided a social safety net. His policies included an economic and agrarian
reform, cooperation with the trade unions, an expansion of the educational system and
an active opposition to Fascism, made explicit by declaring war on Germany and Italy on the
8th of December 1941. All in all, it was a period of growth, stability
and democratic development for the island nation. Batista ruled well, although he did take the
opportunity to enrich himself. After his term ended in 1944, Batista stepped
aside, preferring to sponsor new candidate Carlos Saladrigas, who was defeated by Professor
Grau – yes, him again! Batista soon left the country and lived for
a while in Florida, where he increased his wealth by investing the huge sums he had acquired
in Cuba. The following year, 1945, Batista finally
divorced from Elisa and married his long-time mistress, Marta Fernandez Miranda, who would
give him four more children. During his years of absence Grau’s administration
became known for its corruption and irresponsibility – a great disappointment for the Cuban electorate
who saw Grau as a ‘pure’ hero from the 1933 revolt. This malcontent paved the way for Batista’s
return to the island, this time as a Senator, in 1948. Golpe! From 1948 to 1952 Cuba was run by elected
President Prio Socarras. Like Grau, he was an ambitious and idealistic
leader, whose agenda got marred by corruption and economic stagnation. When new elections were called to take place
in June1952, Batista run for office for a second time. Anticipating a defeat, the former Colonel
launched a bloodless golpe, a coup, on the 10th of March 1952. Washington immediately recognized the new
Cuban government. It became clear from the start that Batista’s
approach to running the country had radically change from his early presidency. First, he suspended the 1940 Constitution
he himself had instituted and cancelled most of the remaining civil liberties. Whereas in 1940 he had sought the alliance
of trade unions and the Communist Party, he now backed the wealthy landowners who owned
sugar plantations. The gap between rich and poor increased and
government corruption was rife. Whereas in 1940 his accumulation of wealth
appeared as a by-product of his populist rule, now the reaping of profits was his only evident
goal. And finally, whereas in his previous years
in power he had sought cooperation with the US only as a means to further his political
goals, he now welcomed with open arms the intervention of both America’s government
and its private sector. By the late 1950s, the US corporations owned
90% of Cuban mines [ping] 80% public utilities
50% of the railways 40% of the sugar production and
25% of the bank deposits In an effort to boost tourism, Batista also
invited a different kind of American entrepreneurship to invest in an industry as Cuban as cigar
and rum production: gambling Batista and the Mob
If you have seen the Godfather part II you will surely remember a long section set in
Havana, in which Michael Corleone meets gangster Hyman Roth, who runs the profitable gambling
business in Cuba in cahoots with the Government. This Roth character is inspired by a real-life
gangster, Meyer Lansky, a high-ranking mobster of the Jewish Mafia. Lansky and legendary Italo-American mafioso
Lucky Luciano had been cooperating with Batista since his Florida years. When the dictator had seized power in 1952
he had realised that to attract the right kind of tourism and investments he needed
to clean up Havana’s Casinos and red-light district. Who could do a better job than the Mob? Lansky in particular had a real talent to
organise complex operations and have businesses run like clockwork. He took charge of the casinos, becoming a
sort of unofficial – but much needed – Minister of Gambling. What did Lansky, Luciano, and other mobsters
such as Santo Trafficante get in return? Well, for starters, they got loads of money
from Batista’ Government, but most of all they had free rein in dealing cocaine in and
out of the island. This was a time when VIP members at one of
the smarter Havana nightclubs had their own lockers to hold their cocaine stash. Author T.J. English described the Havana of the period
as “A volatile mix of Monte Carlo, Casablanca
and the ancient city of Cadiz all rolled into one. A bitches’ brew of high-stakes gambling, secret
revolutionary plots, violent repression and gangsterism”
And yet, the unholy alliance of Batista with the Mob was just a minor symptom of the broader
illnesses plaguing Cuba in the 1950s: government corruption, unemployment, exploitation of
low paid female labour, USA interference and the toxic dependence on a single-crop economy
– sugar cane. This system was due for a collapse, and a
young lawyer was going to accelerate its demise. Enter Fidel. Viva la Revolución! As public dissent increased, Batista tightened
his control over the media by way of censorship and created an anti-Communist secret police
to intimidate the opposition by the means of violence, torture and executions. Between 10,000 to 20,000 people were murdered
under the Batista regime, with financial and military support from Washington. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who would
become an aide to John Kennedy, analysed Batista’s Cuba in these terms:
“The corruption of the government, the brutality of the police, the regime’s indifference
to the needs of the people for education, medical care, housing, for social justice
and economic justice is an open invitation to revolution”
The invitation was RSVP’ed by the July 26th Movement, led by lawyer and politician Fidel
Castro. Quick break here: we have covered extensively
the stages of the Revolution in our videos about Fidel Castro and his ally, Comandante
Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. If you want to know more about the fight against
Batista’s regime from their perspective, make sure you check our videos, you will find
the links in the description below. Today we are going to look at this revolutionary
struggle from the perspective of the losing side: Batista’s. And more specifically: how did it happen that
Batista lost against the July 26 Movement, despite having full control of the armed forces
and facing a less formidable opposition? According to writers Norberto Fuentes and
Carlos Alberto Montaner, Batista made three strategic blunders in the fight against Castro
which would bring about his defeat. On the 26th of July 1953 Fidel, his brother
Raul and other 160 men attacked the Moncada army barracks in Santiago, hoping to spark
a general uprising. They didn’t. Most of the insurgents were killed and the
Castro brothers were arrested. Batista had Fidel in his grip and yet he let
him go away during a general amnesty in 1955 – first blunder. Fidel fled to Mexico. On the 2nd of December 1956 he returned to
Cuba, aboard the yacht Granma followed by 81 revolutionaries, hoping to spark a general
uprising. They didn’t. Most of the insurgents were killed, but Castro
and few others made it to the jungles of the Sierra Maestra. Batista’s army, instead of pushing the invaders
back into the sea, chased them to the interior of the island, giving them a shot at a successful
guerrilla campaign – second blunder. As Castro’s followers increased in numbers
and their actions became more effective, Batista missed the opportunity to finish them quickly. In Montaner’s words:
“”Batista does not finish Fidel out of greed… His is a government of thieves. To have this small guerrilla band in the mountains
is to his advantage, so that he can order special Defense expenditures that he can steal.” Third Blunder. By the time Batista sent a significant force
of ten thousand soldiers Castro had become too strong and the regular army too corrupt
to be effective. Secret door
But the 26th of July Movement was not the only foe the regime had to contend with. Another organisation, called Directorio Revolucionario
– Revolutionary Directorate – had Batista in their sights. Despite Castro’s disagreement the directorate
planned a direct attack on the Presidential Palace in Havana, with the aim of assassinating
Batista. On the 13th of March 1957 a commando of the
directorate launched an assault on the Palace, surrounding the building and fighting their
way through its rooms with gunfire and hand grenades. They had chosen to attack in the late afternoon,
a time which Batista notoriously spent working in his office on the second floor. But when they forced their way into the office
… Batista had disappeared. The attack ended in failure and incarceration
for those involved. It later appeared that Batista had installed
a secret door in his office, well hidden behind a plastic panel. Upon hearing the incoming shots and explosions,
he had simply slipped through the secret passage and escaped to safety. But why would he need such a passage? Personal safety would be a perfectly normal
explanation. But we have a better one. Natalia Bolivar is an expert of Santeria,
the religious practices of African origin practiced by some minorities in Cuba. According to her, Batista had a fascination
with these type of rites, one of them being “The Letter of the Year”. In this ceremony the Babalawos, or priests,
determine which ‘odu’, a ‘sign’ or letter, will dominate a certain year. Batista was informed that the odu for 1957
was Obbara Mey – meaning “The King must find an escape from the places
where he dwells. A secret escape”
And so, Batista was inspired to install the secret door just one month prior to the assassination
attempt. He had managed to escape that specific attack,
but he was not going to be safe for long. Fidel, Raul and Che were getting closer and
closer to Havana. Farewell to Havana
According to writer T.J. English Batista spent the last weeks of the
revolution secluded in his palace. With his sanity almost gone, the dictator
would spend his days gorging on fine foods, interrupting his banquets only to watch American
horror movies and to throw up in his garden. On the 27th of December 1958 a train carrying
a much-needed load of weapons and ammunition for the regular army was captured by Che Guevara
in Santa Clara. Batista realised that his defences were now
doomed. He abdicated his presidency and in the early
hours of the 1st of January 1959 he fled from Havana to the Dominican Republic. He brought along 40 family members and loyal
supporters, as well as the bare necessities: $300 to $700 Million dollars’ worth of embezzled
funds, pieces of art and other assets, stashed in 3 cargo planes. He applied for asylum to the US, but Washington
has long withdrawn its support to the losing side of the revolution. Batista relocated instead to Portugal and
finally to Marbella in Francoist Spain, which in those years was a common sanctuary for
military dictators, fascists and escaped Nazis. Batista lived his last years in splendour,
surrounded by the children from his second marriage who described him as
“A man who never raised his voice … he always displayed great affection and tenderness
to us and our mother. He was in general likable and sympathetic
to everybody. History, though, has judged him otherwise”
Fulgencio Batista died on the 6th of August 1973 of a heart attack. A team of assassins sent by Castro were due
to kill him on the 8th. We would like to hear your judgment of today’s
protagonist, please leave your views in the comments below. Was Batista the first, true, effective revolutionary
that Cuba badly needed? Or was he simply a social climber motivated
purely by greed all along? As usual … thank you for watching!

Tony wyaad

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36 COMMENTS

  1. daniel kotzer Posted on October 20, 2019 at 7:12 am

    Us are not the good guys

    Reply
  2. Arvis Mena Posted on October 20, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    Dude, Maximo Gomez did not crushed the PIC. he was never president, it was Jose Miguel Gomez.

    Reply
  3. Mirzoxid Baxtiyarov Posted on October 20, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    Can you guys make a biography of Jalal Addin of Khorezm, i respect the depth of research you guys do

    Reply
  4. David Williams Posted on October 20, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    So we got videos on Batista, Fidel, Che, now all we need a video on Raul.

    Reply
  5. Kris Yu Posted on October 20, 2019 at 2:45 pm

    Lucky men👍👍👍

    Reply
  6. Flash FM Posted on October 20, 2019 at 3:06 pm

    Can you please make a video about Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek?

    Reply
  7. Jimmi Stone Posted on October 20, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    Viva Ernesto

    Reply
  8. Aity7 Posted on October 20, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    May I suggest you a video about Georges Clemenceau PM of France from 1917 to 1919

    Reply
  9. !rC Posted on October 20, 2019 at 8:13 pm

    You must be drunk 24/7

    Reply
  10. Pizza Zombie Posted on October 20, 2019 at 10:11 pm

    Cyoober. And its San-ter-ria. Geez.

    Reply
  11. Tim P Posted on October 21, 2019 at 5:25 am

    I think he was a good man, flawed but Cuba was better off under our umbrella than Ivan's!

    Reply
  12. Yankee Doodle Posted on October 21, 2019 at 8:15 am

    Literally Tropico but in real life

    Reply
  13. Brian JOnker Posted on October 21, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Cuban history would have been much better had it become a state after the Spanish left.

    Reply
  14. name Posted on October 21, 2019 at 6:44 pm

    Viva la revolucion!!!!!!

    Reply
  15. Kirio Crespo Posted on October 21, 2019 at 9:25 pm

    Social climber motivated by greed! No doubt.

    Reply
  16. MIftahul Janna Posted on October 22, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    Please… Explain about Soekarno. The first president of Indonesia

    Reply
  17. Salvinius Augustus Posted on October 23, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    Batista > Triple H

    Reply
  18. Salvinius Augustus Posted on October 23, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    Now I want to play Tropico. Viva el presidente.

    Reply
  19. tms999 Posted on October 24, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    This was an excellent report sharing unknown facts about Batista and his rise to power and gaining control of Cuba. Thumbs-Up.

    Reply
  20. MyDaRkN3SsLiV3s Posted on October 25, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    F*ck he shares the same birth day as me Jan 16

    Reply
  21. Buffy the Libtard Slayer Posted on October 26, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    This guy is even worse than I thought. He was a corrupt social climber from the beginning. He basically led the way for Castro to come in and takeover.

    Reply
  22. Benjamin Wright Posted on October 27, 2019 at 12:58 am

    Another great video Simon

    Reply
  23. Alan Fike Posted on October 29, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    I'd love Adam McKay (Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Big Short, Succession) to do a movie on this man's life. By this man, of course I mean Simon Whistler. No, I mean Bautista.

    Reply
  24. William Hill Posted on October 29, 2019 at 4:47 pm

    Batista also hung his Political Opponents, the official explanation was they committed suicide because they had betrayed Batista and Cuba

    Reply
  25. ShadowDragonGT Posted on October 30, 2019 at 5:12 am

    Do one on the mayflower

    Reply
  26. Banderas Vaduva Posted on October 31, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    Give even the most pious of man absolute power. And you'll see him slowly become a corrupted madman.

    This is why power should never be handed to a single man, no one can widstand such a responsability without being consumed by it:

    Reply
  27. John Sheehan Posted on November 1, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    Congratulations on another hit video. Batista seems to have been a genuine populist progressive and reformer. It seems that Big Sugar as well as steamship and railroad money may have turned his head during his lucrative investment years in Florida. Upon his return we see The Strongman emerge. Ultimately his own corrupt empire collapsed in on itself in a comic-opera New Years Eve scene that FF Coppola captured succinctly in Godfather II

    Reply
  28. The Millennial Gamer Posted on November 2, 2019 at 3:40 am

    My Grandfather and his brothers served in Batista military my second uncle which was the 3rd born was a Major in the Cuban military.

    My dad also knew Batista personalty when he had ab appointment with him and he assigned my grandmother too a school when she graduated from college in Havana.

    Reply
  29. Capint Japan Posted on November 2, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    Can you do Maria Romanov

    Reply
  30. Hannah Skipper Posted on November 4, 2019 at 2:58 am

    A Sergeant snaps his fingers and becomes a Colonel. Gotta be a recipe for corruption. 😬 At least he wasn't a failed artist. 😬

    Reply
  31. Bluecavemen Posted on November 11, 2019 at 2:21 am

    You should talk about "subcomandante marcos"

    Reply
  32. Yanuchi Uchiha: Anime, Games and Ramdomness Posted on November 14, 2019 at 10:28 am

    Ye, he was bad and all, but let me point out: THE USS FUNDED HIM

    Reply
  33. Sheila Delis Posted on November 22, 2019 at 2:18 am

    Máximo Gómez died attend 1905 an he never was president. He always rejected to run for president alleging that as he was born in Dominican Republic he wasn't Cuban enough, even when Cuban accepted him as Cuban like any other born in Cuba

    Reply
  34. L B Posted on November 25, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    Santería is NOT practiced by the minority of Cubans, is practiced by the majority and even atheists like me respect Santería way more than any other religion in the island. Hangout in Havana on December 17 or anyway in Old Havana and you will see Santería on full display.

    Reply
  35. L B Posted on November 25, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    Funny in school they never taught us the first Batista, always the second one. We had to write long essays on how horrible he was and of course how the US government helped. They never spoke about the PIC which was destroyed by Máximo Gómez who remains a National hero, so that was nice to know

    Reply
  36. Max Troy Posted on November 27, 2019 at 10:56 am

    Would be nice to see a video on a Nigerian dictator. They've had so many.

    Reply
  37. Mt. Baldwin Posted on November 29, 2019 at 4:40 am

    Batista looks like classic example of "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." He probably meant everything he did, both good and then later the bad, twisted by absolute power.

    Reply
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