On November 25, 2016, Fidel Castro died after spending some 50 years of his life in control of Cuba, from 1959 to 2008. Castro, over the course of his life, grew from a young and hopeful rebel to a dictatorial communist, maintaining control of Cuba until his resignation. The young and hopeful rebel progressively rejected the ideas of the 1940 Cuban constitution, in favor of ever-harsher communist policies. Even when he resigned, control of Cuba passed to his chosen successor.
We’ll look at seven of Castro’s individual interactions with others, both inside the Cuban Revolution and with external forces to see how those interactions shaped the life of Fidel Castro and the future of Cuba as a nation. These include interactions and relationships with U.S. presidents, the president of Cuba, and other Cuban revolutionaries.
November 6, 1940: Castro and Roosevelt
Fidel Castro’s first interaction with another public figure took place when he was only 14 years old. The day after Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to serve a third term as U.S. President, young Fidel Castro, then a student at a Jesuit school in Cuba, wrote a letter to President Roosevelt.
Castro wrote, in only slightly broken English, that he had heard on the radio that Roosevelt had been re-elected, and that he was only 12 years old. This was, based on more accurate records, incorrect, as he was 14 at the time of the writing. He asked Roosevelt to send him a ten-dollar bill, as he’d never seen one and would like to. He offered to show Roosevelt Cuba’s largest iron mines, if he needed iron for his ships.
Roosevelt never saw Castro’s letter, and Castro received only a standard form-letter reply. He did not get his ten-dollar bill. Castro confirmed the existence of his letter, and that he had received a reply in an interview in 1975. The letter was rediscovered in the National Archives in 1977.
Only a few weeks before the boy wrote this letter, Cuba had passed one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. The constitution provided for a minimum wage, voting rights, and a number of constitutional protections for the people of Cuba. This constitution, based on the Second Spanish Republic’s Constitution of 1931 and Germany’s Weimar Constitution, had a lasting impact on young Castro. This was a time of great hope for Cuba, and the constitution remained in effect until 1952.
As a young rebel in the 1950s, in direct opposition to the military leader Fulgencio Batista, Castro claimed the restoration of the 1940 Constitution as one of the key goals of his movement. He reiterated this intention again in 1957; however, the constitution drafted in 1976 had no resemblance to that of Castro’s 1940 Cuba.