Fidel Castro (Fidel Alejandro Castro Rúz) was born in Mayarí, Cuba, on 13 August 1926. In 1945, he began studying law at the University of Havana. He achieved his PhD in 1950 and set up a law firm so that he could work to defend the poor. During his studies, he joined the “Manicatos” group, who fought for social justice. He took part in several uprisings and student protests and from 1949 he became part of the Cuban People’s Party.
On 26 July 1953, he led an assault on the Moncada region of Santiago, Cuba. The aim of the assault was to try to overthrow General Fulgencia Batista who had gained power following a coup d’état in 1952. The operation was a failure and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Following a general amnesty, he was freed on 15 May 1955.
He went into exile in Mexico with his brother Raúl, where, in 1956, he met Ernesto “Che” Guevara. On 2 December 1956, he arrived clandestinely in Cuba with around 80 men, including his brother and Ernesto Guevara. They came to start the guerrilla group that ended with the fall of Batista on 1 January 1959.
Fidel Castro became prime minister. He developed policies that supported nationalisation and agrarian redistribution. He wanted to break any ties and move away from the protection of the United States of America. Following the Bay of Pigs invasion on 1 December 1961, Fidel Castro declared the Cuban Revolution to have a Marxist-leninist character and he proclaimed their alignment with the USSR. On 26 March 1962, the various revolutionary bodies became co-aligned in a unified party known as the “socialist revolution unified party”. In 1965, this party was replaced by the Cuban Communist Party, of which Castro was the secretary general; a position he would maintain until 2011. In 1976, a new constitution was adopted and he became Head of State. He renounced his power in February 2008 and was replaced by his brother Raúl.
The Cuban system was and remains to be the subject of various dilemmas over whether it is dictatorial or not and it has been criticised with regards to human rights. However, some observers, although they do not deny the human rights violations, speak of the stigmatization of the regime being exaggerated.
The infractions reported by NGOs defending human rights, such as Amnesty International’s 2012 report, included, in particular, imprisonment and arbitrary detentions and the suppression of freedom of expression, association and political dissident meetings or journalists and human rights supporters.
On 5 November 1998, the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC), based in Spain, made a claim against Fidel Castro and other members of the Cuban government for genocide, murder and torture committed since Castro’s revolution in 1959.
According to the FHRC, Fidel Castro was responsible for having constructed and maintained a political system since 1959 that; suppressed freedom and disregarded human rights; systematically and extensively imprisoned political opposition while denying them of any method to defend themselves and submitting them to physical and psychological torture; sunk a ship of refugees on 13 July 1994 and ordered the murder of 42 people, 23 of whom were minors; applied the death penalty to approximately 15000 people since he became president and transported 149 detainees in a hermetically sealed lorry on 20 April 1961, which caused the death of nine people during the 11 hour journey.