July 26, 1953: Castro & Batista
After attending Jesuit schools as a boy, Castro enrolled at the University of Havana to study law. He first took a strong interest in politics, and particularly revolutionary politics, while studying law. While still a student, he participated in an attempted coup against the violent dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo. He joined the Orthodox party, which ran on an anti-corruption platform.
Two years after Castro’s law school graduation, in 1952, he ran for election to the Cuban House of Representatives, established by the 1940 Constitution. The election never occurred; Fulgencio Batista seized power in a military coup. Batista had the support of the United States.
In July 1953, Castro led a group of 120 men in an armed assault on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba. The assault failed; Castro was captured in the assault. He made a four-hour speech in his own defense in court, commonly called, “History Will Absolve Me.” No records were kept of the speech, but Castro recreated it in writing to produce the manifesto for the 26th of July Movement.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the assault on the Moncado Army Barracks. Some 100 men were arrested after the assault; however, 65 of those had played no part in Castro’s effort. The others tried included many elected politicians, and the last democratically elected president of Cuba. Castro’s defense, and the efforts of others, were successful. Only 31 of the 100 tried were sentenced to prison, and most were treated with some leniency.
In 1955, Batista granted a general amnesty to a number of prisoners, including all those sentenced for the 1953 assault, in an attempt to appear less authoritarian.
Castro left Cuba for Mexico after he was freed from prison.