January 1, 1959: Castro and Batista
Fidel Castro returned to Cuba on December 2, 1956. This began a two-year conflict. Fulgencio Batista had been the elected president of Cuba from 1940 to 1944, then had seized power in a military coup in 1952. During his first term, he had the support of the Communist Party; however, he lost that following the military coup, when he took on the clear role of dictator. This led to Castro’s 26th of July Movement.
Batista worked actively to suppress the Cuban Revolution, began with an air force attack on the landing forces, and continuing with active suppression of communist movements in Cuba’s cities. Castro and his small bands of guerilla forces worked to harass and disrupt Cuban troop movements.
In February 1958, the rebels set up a pirate radio station, spreading their message across all of Cuba. Castro’s forces were exceptionally small, rarely numbering more than 200 total men. In comparison, Batista had a combined military and police force numbering more than 37,000. The U.S. imposed an arms embargo in March of 1958, weakening Batista’s forces significantly.
During the summer of 1958, battles continued, eventually culminating in a series of battles in December 1958. Many of these were relatively small skirmishes, but some were significantly larger. Castro progressively gained standing, and support over this time. On December 31, 1958, rebel forces took control of Santa Clara.
On January 1, 1959, Batista fled Cuba, heading for the Dominican Republic by air. Fighting continued in Cienfuegos. The following day, Batista’s forces stood down, leaving Castro and his rebels in power in Santiago de Cuba.
Manuel Urrutia Lleo, Castro’s choice for president, took power on January 3. Castro himself reached the city of Havana on the 8th of January, 1959. The 26th of July Movement had succeeded. This interaction, when Batista fled Cuba, marks the beginning of Castro’s political power in Cuba.