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Aired January 31, 2005

Fidel Castro

Film Description

In the United States, Latin America, Europe, and in far corners of the globe, people from all walks of life either despised Fidel Castro as a ruthless dictator or lionized him as a champion of social justice. More than five decades after he assumed power, he remained a living legend, a touchstone for revolutionaries the world over, and a symbol of resistance to American dominance.

For the leader of a small Caribbean nation, Castro's impact on the latter half of the twentieth century has been inordinate. The controversial, charismatic dictator confounded American presidents from Eisenhower to Bush, while surviving a CIA-backed invasion, countless assassination plots, an economic embargo — even the collapse of his benefactor, the Soviet Union. Castro sent his soldiers to the farthest reaches of the world and roused his people to accomplish heroic feats, in the name of justice and the promise of a brilliant future. But he also drove two million Cubans into exile, and silenced those who dared challenge his rule.


Written and Produced by
Adriana Bosch

Directed by
Adriana Bosch

Patricia Alvarado Núñez

Edited by
Jon Neuburger

Associate Producer
Rose M. Compagine

Director of Archival Research
Karen Colbron

Music by
Mason Daring

David Ogden Stiers

Director of Photography
Andrés Sánchez

Production Manager
Susan Chalifoux

Production Assistant
Pamela Gaudiano

Additional Camera
Eric Delgado

Assistant Editor
Scott Limanek

Additional Research
Tania Mastrapa
Julie Ecker
Alison Smith

Albert Saad
Jonathan Cohen
José Léon
Rafael Ubior

Lighting Design
Antal Steinbach
Joshua Spring
Marcos "Popu" Cruz

Sound Design
Coll Anderson

Sound Mix
John Jenkins

On-Line Editor
Mark Steele

Narration Record
Pinewood Sound

Still Photo Animation
Alisa Placas

Language Consultant
Edith Grossman

Additional Puerto Rico Crew
Freddie Hernández
Gamalier Rivera
Lorenzo Valdés Lamar

Rena Baskin
Peter Haydu
Paul Horn
William Lebow
Timothy Sawyer

Special thanks to
Bosch Solaún Family
Enrique And Yolanda Ovares
Ernesto Betancourt
Mario Chanes and Eusebio Peñalver, Plantados Until Freedom and Democracy in Cuba
Joe García, Cuban-American National Foundation
Sandra Levinson, Center for Cuban Studies
Justo Quintana, Ex-Club
Manuel Ray
Jaime Suchlicki
Juan Clark
Max Lesnick
Marisol Sánchez
Edilia Paz
Janet Lang
Miren Uriarte
Rafael Rojas

Arturo Sheimberg
Rachel Hezekiah
Michelle Doucette

Archival Footage
ABC News Videosource
Archive Films by Getty Images
Bausan Film
BBC Worldwide Americas
British Film Institute - ETV Collection
Carlton International
Cinema Guild
Cnn Imagesource
Corbis Motion
Direct Cinema Limited
Downtown Community Television Center
Florida Moving Image Archive
Fox Movietonews Inc.
Grinberg Film Libraries
Historic Films
ITN Archive
Orlando Jiménez Leal
Rafael Lima, University Of Miami
Macdonald & Associates
NBC News Archives
New York Times Television
NOBODY LISTENED, a film by Nestor Almendros and Jorge Ulla, Courtesy of DIRECTCINEMA.Com
Kyra Pahlen
UCLA Film and Television Archive
Jorge Ulla
United Nations
WPA Film Library

Photo Archives
AP/Wide World Photos
Bay Of Pigs Museum
Casa del Preso
Center for Cuban Studies Archives
Dr. Juan Clark
Couturier Gallery
Antonio De La Cova
Alfredo "El Chino" Esquivel
Everett Collection, Inc.
Getty Images
Georgie Anne Geyer
Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos
Barbara Gordon
Gianfranco Gorgoni
Dirck Halstead/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Historical Museum of Southern Florida
Hulton Archives
Institut Amatler d'Art Hispanic
JFK Library and Museum, Boston
David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images
Lee Lockwood
The Little Cuban Museum
Huber Matos
Wally McNamee/CORBIS
The Miami Herald
Carl Mydans/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
The National Security Archive
The New York Public Library
The New York Times
Ocean Press
Enrique Ovares
Pix Photography
Photofest NYC
L. C. Rapoport/Getty Images
José Ignacio Rasco
Félix Rodríguez
Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
Alina Fernández Revuelta
Joseph Scherschel/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
George Skadding/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Volker Skierka
United Nations
Grey Villet/Getty Images
The Washington Post
Gordon Winslow

James Blight
Jorge Domínguez
Mark Falcoff
Marifeli Pérez-Stable

For American Experience

Post Production
Greg Shea
Glenn Fukushima

Series Designer
Alison Kennedy

On-Line Editor
Mark Steele
Spencer Gentry

Sound Mix
John Jenkins

Series Theme
Mark Adler

Business Manager
John Van Hagen

Project Administration
Nancy Farrell
Vanessa Ruiz
Helen R. Russell
Rebekah Suggs

Director, New Media
Maria Daniels

Interactive Media
Ravi Jain

Daphne B. Noyes
Johanna Baker
Lauren Prestileo

Series Editor
Susan Bellows

Series Manager
James E. Dunford

Coordinating Producer
Susan Mottau

Series Producer
Sharon Grimberg

Executive Producer
Mark Samels

©2004 WGBH Educational Foundation
All Rights Reserved.


EDWARD R. MURROW, ARCHIVAL FILM: Just thirty days ago, Fidel Castro entered Havana to be greeted by cheering mobs, as one of the greatest heroes in Cuba's history. Fidel Castro, at the age of 32, you now have in your hands a great deal of power and a great deal of responsibility. Aren't you a little frightened by this?

FIDEL CASTRO: Well really, not frightened, because I have self-confidence, but something worried, of course.

MURROW: Not frightened but a little worried.


NARRATOR: He had led a revolution that overthrew a hated dictator. And on January 6, 1959, the day of his triumphant march into Havana, he embodied the hopes of an entire nation.

CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER, AUTHOR (SPANISH): Fidel arrives as a messiah. Young, bearded, and at the head of a guerilla army. That unleashes the imagination and the fantasy of the Cuban people.

GEORGIE ANNE GEYER, JOURNALIST: You had this romantic revolutionary hero. He's big. He's manly. Very charismatic.

ARCHIVAL FILM: Fidel, will you say just a few words to New Yorkers who have seen you for the first time?

FIDEL CASTRO: Well, I am very glad to be here again, because I fulfilled my promise of coming after the victorious revolution.

GEYER: This is a man of huge appetites and huge ambition.

BRIAN LATELL, CIA ANALYST: He is endlessly complex. He is a man of enormous intellect, of an inflexible will. His revolution was from the very first moments a one-man show.

NARRATOR: He would rouse his people to accomplish heroic feats -- in the name of justice and the promise of a brilliant future. Send his soldiers to the farthest reaches of the world, inspiring many with dreams of greatness.

NORBERTO FUENTES, AUTHOR (SPANISH): There was a thirst for glory, for heroism and he awakened that thirst.

NARRATOR: But he would drive two million Cubans into exile and silence those who dared challenged his rule.

MARIFELI PEREZ STABLE, AUTHOR: The extraordinary leadership that Castro exercised went along with thousands of people brought before firing squads. Forty, or maybe even fifty thousand political prisoners, the treatment of political prisoners.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- FIDEL CASTRO (SPANISH): Only now I understand that my destiny was not to rest at the end of my life.

NARRATOR: For more than four decades Fidel Castro has ruled Cuba. He survived a U.S. backed invasion. Countless assassination plots. An economic embargo. Even the collapse of his benefactor, the Soviet Union.

JAMES BLIGHT, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: The epic of the Castro era is probably one of the greatest stories of the last one hundred years. What are the odds that a little, dinky country would project its forces around the world and drive the United States crazy? Impossible. How could it happen?

NARRATOR: His classmates called him "el guajiro," the hick, and he liked nothing more than to revisit the Cuba of his childhood. Fidel Castro came of age at Las Manacas, a sprawling sugar plantation in Cuba's remote northeast. His father, Angel, a former Spanish soldier, had come to Cuba at the turn of the century to fight in the Spanish-American War, and made his fortune growing sugarcane for the U.S.-owned United Fruit Company, a, the dominant economic and social force in the region at the time.

GEORGIE ANNE GEYER: There is definitely a lot of history encoded in that childhood of Fidel Castro's. He was the outsider. He was born illegitimately. His father had been married to a schoolteacher. Then he took up with the family maid, who was Fidel's mother. And they were only married when the children were sent to Catholic schools. Fidel very seldom spoke about this. Never directly.

NARRATOR: Fidel's mother, Lina Ruz, was a poor but ambitious country girl. Once described as an "Annie Oakley" type she was known to fire a gun to call her family to dinner. Though Lina barely knew how to read and write, she insisted their children get the best education Angel's money could buy. Fidel and his two brothers, Raúl and Ramón, were sent to a boarding school in Santiago de Cuba. But the unruly Castro boys were too disruptive and were expelled.

BRIAN LATELL: Fidel told his father and mother, "I want to go back to that school." But his parents said, "No you can't go back, you and your brothers were just too rough, you were too violent, and the priests don't want you there anymore." And, uh, what he did was he told his mother, "If you do not send me back to that school I will burn this house down." And his mother knew that this boy, this ferocious son of hers, truly meant what he said.

NARRATOR: In October 1941, at age fifteen, Fidel went to Havana, to attend El Colegio de Belén, Cuba's best and most exclusive school. His rural upbringing clashed with that of his schoolmates, raised in the cultured and literate homes of Cuba's upper class. His reckless behavior earned him a nickname: "El Loco," the crazy one.

JOSE IGNACIO RASCO, SCHOOLMATE (SPANISH): Fidel Castro, who always wanted to win at everything, once made a bet that he would crash against the back wall of one of the school's long corridors. For five dollars he got on his bike and crashed onto the wall. He lost consciousness and spent several days in the infirmary recovering.

NARRATOR: It was at Belen, under the guidance of the Spanish Jesuits priests, that the young Castro began to form his world- view.

CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER (SPANISH): The Jesuits Fidel encountered in Havana in the 1940s, came out of the experience of the Spanish Civil War. From the Nationalist faction, the faction close to Fascism and they were steeped in the idea of the superiority of the Hispanic, Catholic world over the materialistic and corrupt Anglo-Saxon world.

NARRATOR: Fidel impressed his teachers with his athletic abilities, photographic memory, and enormous tenacity. They singled him out as someone who would, "no doubt, fill the book of his life with brilliant pages." When he entered the University of Havana in 1945, he set out to fulfill that promise.

ALFREDO "CHINO" ESQUIVEL, SCHOOLMATE (SPANISH): One night we were studying and we decided to take a break and we went to have a café con leche. And we started talking about the future. And I said I'd like to travel and have a lot of friends, which was the truth. And another guy said, I want to be a poet. Another one wanted to be a lawyer. Then I turned to Fidel and said, "Guajiro, what do you want?" And he said, "I want glory and fame."

NARRATOR: The University of Havana had been a hotbed of political activity since the 1930's, when students led a revolt against dictator Gerardo Machado.

JORGE DOMINGUEZ, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: The 1930's is a violent period in Cuban political history. Social and political struggles continue through a good part of that decade and the idea was that if you were to be politically effective at some point you needed to be ready to wield a gun. When Fidel arrives at the University, you needed guns as well. Now not for noble revolutionary goals, but just to protect yourself and your friends. And there are gangs.

GEORGIE ANNE GEYER: Fidel's generation had a terrible sense of frustration. Cuba was supposed to be one of the three wealthiest countries in the hemisphere with the United States and Argentina. And yet, they couldn't put themselves together politically. It was one tragedy after the other -- the War of 1898, the Americans' intervention, the Platt Amendment, which gave the United States virtually power over anything in Cuba. They saw leader after leader either be corrupt, killed, replaced by the United States: fail, fail, fail.

BRIAN LATELL: While he was a student at the University of Havana, Fidel came under the influence of nationalist Cuban professors, began to study Cuban history very seriously. He concluded that Cuba had not been in control of its own history. And he blamed the United States.

NARRATOR: Fidel jumped into the fray. He helped organize strikes and demonstrations. Ran for student president. Joined a gang. "He was a combination of genius and juvenile delinquent," one fellow student recalled. "He would show signs of brilliance and then behave like a hoodlum. He was implicated in the fatal shooting of a rival student leader, but charges were never filed. He was identified by a witness in connection with the murder of a University police sergeant. But the witness recanted his testimony.

Mirta Díaz Balart was 19 years old when she fell in love with Fidel Castro. She was a philosophy student at the University of Havana and a member of a prominent Cuban family.

RAFAEL DIAZ-BALART, BROTHER-IN-LAW (SPANISH): I introduced them. And told her: You know he's crazy, he's a paranoid and a psychopath, who would just as soon throw you off the tenth floor as buy you a mink coat. And she said, I know, but I am in love. And I replied, "well, then, marry him." She was the one who was in love, not I.

NARRATOR: They were married on October 12th, 1948, and went on an extended honeymoon to New York. "For the first time I tried T-bone steak, smoked salmon and other things that a young man with a big appetite enjoyed a lot," Fidel later recalled. With his father's money he bought a white Lincoln Continental, took an apartment in the Bronx and tried to teach himself English by learning 200 words per day. Back from their honeymoon, Fidel and Mirta settled in Havana, where he set up a small law practice. Mirta gave birth to a son, Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, Fidelito. But Castro was seldom home and there was never enough money.

MARIFELI PEREZ STABLE: Castro came in one morning and he didn't realize until later that day, that all his furniture in the living room, including Fidelito's playpen, all is gone because they've been repossessed. He didn't pay the bills. This is a man who doesn't have a sense of feeling, empathy, for the things that ordinary human beings need to live their lives more or less normally.

NARRATOR: Politics was Fidel's all consuming passion. As Cubans looked forward to free elections in 1952 -- the fourth to be held since a new constitution went into effect in 1940, the young lawyer seized the moment. He campaigned for a Congressional seat as a member of the Orthodoxo Party, calling for responsible government and an end to corruption. As election day approached, Fidel Castro had a real chance for victory. Then, on March 10th, General Fulgencio Batista, led a military coup d'etat, shattering Cuban democracy, and Fidel's political aspirations

ARCHIVAL FILM -- BATISTA: I speak to the people of Cuba from military quarters now. It is where circumstances have forced me to return.

CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER (SPANISH): Batista's coup open a Pandora's Box. He creates the perfect conditions for the rise of a revolutionary hero. Institutions no longer matter. What matters is audacity. The individual that is capable of violent actions.

NORBERTO FUENTES: There is a story Fidel tells. He's on the steps of the university, without money, his marriage on the rocks, no work, and he doesn't know what to do and it is a wonderful moment. That night he says, "I have to deliver a blow. I have to make a revolution." And it is at that moment that he decides to attack the Moncada Barracks.

NARRATOR: On July 26th, 1953, Fidel Castro, hoping to incite a rebellion, led 129 men and two women in a daring assault against the Moncada Army Barracks in Santiago de Cuba.

NARRATOR: "Even if it fails", Fidel had said, "it would be heroic and have symbolic value." It was a massacre. Eight attackers were killed, twelve wounded, more than 60 were taken prisoner -- tortured and then executed. Fidel Castro was captured seven days later. His life spared through the intervention of Santiago's Catholic Archbishop. In the days following the assault, Fulgencio Batista called for ten men to be killed for every one of his soldiers dead at Moncada. Published photographs of the mutilated bodies of Cuba's youth repulsed a nation, and made a hero of the man who had led the daring assault.

MARIFELI PEREZ-STABLE: The repression by the Batista forces was so harsh - there were so many young men, mostly young men, who were killed and who were savagely repressed that it was a wake-up call for the Cuban people.

NARRATOR: At his trial, Fidel Castro held the attention of all Cuba. Arguing in his own defense, the young lawyer spoke the words that would become legend. "Condemn me," he said, " it does not matter, "history will absolve me." Fidel, and his younger brother Raúl, were sentenced to fifteen years and sent to the Isle of Pines prison. "November 7, 1953; Dear Naty, if you have suffered because of me, remember that I would gladly give my life for your honor and your happiness." Fidel Castro had fallen in love with Natalia Revuelta, the beautiful wife of a prominent Cuban doctor.

ALINA FERNANDEZ REVUELTA, DAUGHTER OF FIDEL CASTRO: The relationship between my mother and Fidel began in the early 1950's. They met in the days before Moncada, and then he's sent to jail. And then, from prison, there began an exchange that with time became deeper, more passionate.

NARRATOR: Fidel asked for cigars, his favorite foods. Mostly he asked for books. He read the works of Cuba's patriot José Martí, Dostoyevsky, Rousseau, Marx, and Lenin. "What a terrific school this prison is!" he wrote Naty. "Here I can shape my view of the world and perfect the meaning of my life." From his prison cell, Castro reworked his defense speech, "History will Absolve Me," which his wife, Mirta, smuggled out of prison a few pages at a time. It called for the violent overthrow of the Batista government, democratic elections, and addressed the inequalities in Cuban society. Twenty thousand copies were clandestinely distributed.

RICARDO BOFILL, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST (SPANISH): It had a profound impact. It touch on many social problems. It spoke of teachers without jobs, of peasants without land. Of poverty. History Will Absolve Me had a profound message of social justice.

MARIFELI PEREZ STABLE: Cuban political culture in the 20th century up until 1959 was a center-left political culture, and the text, History Will Absolve Me, was pretty much a standard fare: economic reform, social reform. He is not on the fringe at all.

NARRATOR: Castro had been in prison one year when he learned that his wife Mirta had filed for divorce and taken custody of their son after discovering his affair with Naty Revuelta.

ALINA FERNANDEZ (SPANISH): The prison censor, on purpose or by mistake, sent Fidel's wife a letter that had been written for my mother and vice versa. When my mother sees that the letter is for the wife she closes it, but it appears that Fidel's wife read the letter written to my mother.

NARRATOR: Fidel was bitter. "One day I'll be out of here and I'll get my son back," he wrote one of his sisters, "even if the earth should be destroyed in the process."

In April, 1955, after 22 months of confinement, Fidel and Raúl were released from prison under a general amnesty declared by Batista. Castro was 29, a recognized political figure, and the head of an organization he called the "26th of July Movement" in memory of the Moncada Assault. He soon left Cuba for Mexico, to resume his revolution.

On November 25th, 1956, a 65-foot yacht approached the coast of Southeast Cuba. Aboard the Granma were Fidel Castro and 81 expeditionaries returning from Mexico to wage war against Batista. But the Granma had been spotted and by the time Castro's men landed, Batista's Army was waiting. Fidel Castro was reported dead. But he had taken cover in a sugarcane field. Three days later, unharmed, he began walking towards the mountains.

NORBERTO FUENTES (SPANISH): Batista makes a huge strategic blunder. You push landings back toward the sea. But Batista pushes Castro toward the Sierra Maestra. And he says, and this is verbatim, "no one survives in the Sierra Maestra."

NARRATOR: Eighteen men vanished into the forbidding Sierra Maestra mountain range, including Fidel, Raúl, and an Argentine doctor named Ernesto Guevara, known as "Ché." Three months later, the rebels reappeared on the front page of the New York Times. In a series of three articles, Herbert Matthews, a seasoned war correspondent, launched the legend of Fidel Castro. Matthews wrote, "Here is quite a man, a powerful six-footer, olive skinned, with a scraggly beard," "He has strong ideas of liberty, democracy, and social justice."

ARCHIVAL FILM: This is the Sierra Maestra. Two hundred miles of jungle on ...

NARRATOR Following in Matthews' footsteps, a CBS documentary crew made its own pilgrimage. "These are the jungle fighters, the rebels of Sierra Maestra. This is their story".

CASTRO: (captioned) I am going to tell you what happened. Batista chose not want to admit that he is incapable of defeating us. He hopes to obtain by lies that which he cannot get by force of hand. Sometimes he says that I am dead. And other times he says that there is nobody in the Sierra Maestra. But he won't let anyone come here to the Sierra Maestra. And when the soldiers are killed in battle, he says that they died in accidents. There have been a great deal of accidents here in the Sierra Maestra last month.

NARRATOR: Fidel played up his war for an American television audience, but a much larger war was being waged in Cuba's cities. In Havana, The Student Revolutionary Directorate stormed the Presidential Palace in March 1957, in a desperate attempt to assassinate Batista. Their leader, Jose Antonio Echeverría, was gunned down. In Santiago, Cuba's second largest city, the 26th of July Movement Underground, waged a fierce struggle and bore the brunt of the repression. Their leader, Frank País, was ambushed in July. Cubans from all walks of life -- rich and poor, businessmen and workers, angry students and grieving mothers -- filled the streets of Santiago in a somber demonstration.

WILLIAM LEOGRANDE, PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE: Batista does a number of things that gradually expand the revolutionary coalition until it includes almost everyone. He's corrupt. He's very repressive. You reach a point in the late 1950's where virtually everyone is opposed to the regime.

NARRATOR: High up in the Mountains of the Sierra Maestra, Fidel Castro was fast becoming the symbol of resistance against Batista. It was there, among the peasants that the romance of Castro's guerilla war was born. Years later, Celia Sánchez, Fidel's friend and confidant, wistfully recalled, "Those were the best times. We'll never be so happy again. Never." Members of the Urban Underground and opposition party leaders climbed up the mountains to meet with Fidel and work out the details of a future coalition government.

CARLOS FRANQUI, JOURNALIST (SPANISH): The manifesto of the Sierra Maestra called for a democratic republic, a return to the constitution of 1940, free elections. I don't think he signed it intending to honor it.

NORBERTO FUENTES (SPANISH): Fidel realizes that he has his army and his people, who have nothing to do with the politicians among whom he once belonged. He discovers in those sallow, ill-humored, illiterate peasants, the true meaning of a revolution, which is to subvert society. To take the people from the bottom, everyone, and create something new. That old idea of Lenin that you must destroy the State, he understands it and now he knows who he can destory it with.

NARRATOR: The handful of guerrillas who had survived the disaster of the Granmagrew into a rebel army. Fidel commanded with an iron hand.

JORGE DOMINGUEZ People began to notice that Fidel demanded obedience; that he was not very likely to consult, uh, that he wanted to take decisions on his own and wanted others simply to comply.

HUBER MATOS, REBEL LEADER (SPANISH): I remember Fidel once scolded a guerilla fighter. He was so brutal, so obscene, so humiliating. I would stay up under my hammock, thinking, "What will happen in the future?" Then I would see Camilo, Ché obey Fidel and admire him so. And I would ask, "Am I the only one who doubts?"

NARRATOR: In the summer of 1958, Batista decided once and for all to get rid of Fidel Castro, deploying ten thousand soldiers against 300 rebels. Within 30 days, they had encircled Fidel's forces, but they were now deep in rebel territory and vulnerable to attack. Fidel's strategy was simple. "Like ping pong," he said, "you hit them where they least expect it. " Earlier that Spring, the United Sates, embarrrassed by Batista's brutality, had suspended military assistance to his regime.

ALFREDO DURAN, VETERAN, BAY OF PIGS: It created the perception that one, the Cuban army could no longer effectively fight the guerilla movement up in the hills, and secondly, from a political perspective, it sent the signal that the United States no longer supported Batista.

NARRATOR: But Fidel, who since his days at the University had resented the American presence in Cuba, found the gesture to be meaningless. "Once this struggle is finished, I'll begin the real struggle of my life, " he wrote Celia in June of 1958, "the fight I will wage against the United States. I believe that is my true destiny."

NARRATOR: In August, rebel forces left the mountains and fanned across Cuba. Fidel ordered Camilo Cienfuegos and Ché Guevara to move west. Huber Matos took the surrender of Santiago de Cuba. Ché Guevara blew up an armored train in Santa Clara, and took the city. Batista's demoralized army crumbled.

NARRATOR: December 31, 1958. Cubans rang in an uncertain New Year. At dawn Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba, with one hundred and eighty of his closes friends, having amassed a fortune of over 100 million dollars. On January 2, 1959, Fidel Castro and his rebel army set out from Santiago de Cuba toward Havana, a 600 mile triumphant march along Cuba's central highway. Fidel spoke at every stop. Broadcast live on radio and television, his words reached every corner of the island.

JORGE DOMINGUEZ: There is a real feeling that something genuinely new and different will take place ...It's new people. They dance and they joke and they flirt with girls. It is a sense of embeddedness in Cuban society.

HUBER MATOS (SPANISH): For the rebel army it all came as a surprise. We were euphoric on that day. We felt the spiritual satisfaction of someone who has fulfilled his duty selflessly.

MARIFELI PEREZ-STABLE: The first thing that people hoped for was honest democratic government and in my family, my uncles, my grandfathers, everyone went out, once the revolution came to power, to pay their back taxes because now there was going to be an honest government in Cuba.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- REPORTER: Dr. Castro, it is reported that you feel that your role in the Revolution is about over and that you plan, perhaps, to return to civilian life. Is this true? And if not, how soon do you think it would be before you could do that?

CASTRO: My obligation with the people...what I have to do now, and in the future, is that, what be good for my country, and if for my country it is necessary that I renounce to any position, I would gladly renounce to any position because sincerely, I don't ambition power, money, nothing, only to serve my country.


NARRATOR: In keeping with the Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra, an interim government that included all opposition groups assumed power. Elections were scheduled to take place in eighteen months. But real power resided with Fidel, at his old headquarters in the Sierra, at Celia Sanchez's apartment in El Vedado, at a beach house in Cojímar, where all major decision were made.

NARRATOR: One of the first acts of the revolutionary government was retribution. In less than three months, more than 500 Batistianos were publicly tried and executed. When the International Press called it a bloodbath, Castro, incensed, made his case on television.

ARCHIVAL FILM: The purpose of today's gathering is to show the whole world that all Cubans are united in the rebel victory and that all of them support the execution.

FIDEL CASTRO: When the young people would appear murdered in the street, when the yards of the barracks would be full of cadavers, when our women were violated, when the children were murdered, when the police force would go into the embassy to assassinate our people, no one made a campaign against Cuba.

NARRATOR: An ominous new chant, Paredón, "to the wall," was heard throughout Cuba. Fidel Castro's role as Cuba's leader became official on February 16, the day he was appointed Prime Minister.

ARCHIVAL FILM: New York's Pennsylvania Station rarely has seen anything like it. Only the magnetism of a Castro could produce it.

NARRATOR: Prime Minister Fidel Castro arrived in New York in April of 1959, part of a fifteen day good will tour. He was young and idealistic. His appeal undiminished by the recent accusations of a bloodbath.

ARCHIVAL FILM: Fidel, will you say just a few words to New Yorkers who have seen you for the first time?

ARCHIVAL FILM -- FIDEL: Well, I'm very glad to be here again, because I fulfilled my promise of coming after a victorious revolution.

TIM NAFTALI, AUTHOR: He's a movie star. The James Dean of international politics. He's viewed as a savior, leading a revolution to improve people's lives and to show that the people of Latin America can be in control of their own destiny. However, there was some concern that he might be a Communist. So on Meet the Press he is asked.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- MEET THE PRESS: Dr. Castro, Senator Smathers of Florida says that you have many Communists in your government. Is that so?

CASTRO: And because Senator Smathers said, it ought to be true? I don't think that.

TIM NAFTALI: And then he's asked, "Well, what about your brother?"

ARCHIVAL FILM -- MEET THE PRESS: An American magazine published here this week says that your brother is a Communist, and his wife also. Do you believe that?

CASTRO: And how, how the U.S. is going to know that better than myself. That is my brother and my, my sister-in law? I can tell that they are not Communists.

TIM NAFTALI: He denied, and he knew that this was not true. He denied the role that Communists in his inner circle had played.

NARRATOR: In Washington, U.S. officials stood ready to offer Castro economic aid.

ARCHIVAL FILM: Did you ask for any economic assistance?

FIDEL CASTRO: No. What happens is that here, you in the United States, are accustomed to see governments coming for only money. No, I came for good relations, for good understanding, for good economical relations.

NARRATOR: Vice President Richard Nixon urged the Cuban Prime Minister to hold elections as soon as possible. "The people do not want elections," Castro informed him. "In the past they produced bad government. "

JAMES BLIGHT: Nixon's conclusion was that he's probably not a Communist but he is going to be, the phrase was roughly, "a man to be reckoned with" in this hemisphere. And we have to be very careful.

NARRATOR: Cuba's revolutionary transformation began on May 17th, 1959, with the proclamation of the Agrarian reform law. Las Manacas, the Castro family farm, was the first land-holding to be confiscated. Fidel's mother, Lina, was furious, and would never forgive her son. Two hundred thousand peasants received title to land they had once worked. On July 26th, the anniversary of Moncada, they descended on Havana to celebrate.

CARLOS FRANQUI (SPANISH): When I first arrived in Havana from the countryside in 1941, everyone treated me with scorn. To see now how the rich, the middle classes welcomed the peasants to Havana, in 1959, had put them up in their own homes was beautiful, as if everyone realized that there had to be an end to injustice.

NARRATOR: As Castro surveyed the crowd of one million gathered on that day, he compared Cuba's new government to ancient Athens. Except better, because Cuba's revolutionary government was not for the privileged classes or the oligarchy. "This," he said, "is true democracy."

HUBER MATOS (SPANISH): As early as March I found some pro-Marxist propaganda in a magazine distributed to the Rebel Army. One, two, three articles. And we saw Guevara and Raúl meeting with Communist party leaders, and I began to think there's a second plan being put in place here.

NARRATOR: Commadante Huber Matos had noted that the Cuban Communists were an unexpected and influential new force in the revolution. "Fidel, you are destroying your own work," Matos wrote, resigning his command. Fidel called the rebel Comandante disloyal, ungrateful, a traitor, and had him arrested.

WILLIAM LEOGRANDE: This is a critical moment, a defining moment, in which the radicals say, this is the direction we're going. And even people who fought with us cannot say no.

NARRATOR: Matos' fate seemed a foregone conclusion.

CARLOS FRANQUI (SPANISH): Raúl Castro wanted him executed. Ché Guevara agreed, then changed his mind. I said, " Fidel, didn't you say that this revolution wouldn't be like Saturn, who devoured his own children?" And Fidel responded, "No. We're not going to execute him. We don't want to create a martyr.

NARRATOR: Matos was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Many moderates in Castro's government resigned in protest or were dismissed. Some left for the United States. Others joined an opposition movement beginning to take shape in Cuba. By the first anniversary of the revolution, Fidel Castro had the reins of power firmly in hand. His brother Raúl was Minister of Defense. His friend Ché Guevara headed the Central Bank. An obscure lawyer, Osvaldo Dorticós, was President. In just one year there had been many accomplishments. The price of public services dropped. New public works projects were begun. Rents were slashed in half, and students would soon be sent into the mountains to teach peasants to read and write.

ALCIBIADES HIDALGO, CUBAN OFFICIAL (SPANISH): My generation fell in love with that revolution. Popular education, access to health, social justice, and he was so appealing; he had such an interesting way of expressing ideas.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- CASTRO: (captioned) Did we come out of military barracks? Did we come to power through a coup d'état? Why are we in power? Did we stage a military coup?

GEORGIE ANNE GEYER: What I found so fascinating, was there was Fidel up here on the podium, making all these strange gestures, waving his arms.

CASTRO: (captioned) Did we come to power because we bought votes? Did we overthrow a constitutional government?

GEORGIE ANNE GEYER: There out here are two hundred-thousand plus Cubans, for seven, eight hours while Fidel is up there directing them and enchanting them, weaving a spell over them.

MARIFELI PEREZ STABLE: Perhaps his most important accomplishment was understanding the Cuban people, where they were, and challenging them to do great things. And the Cuban people, at that time, a majority of them responded. They turned their goodwill, their faith, and their judgment over to Fidel Castro. And that was a huge political capitol - a political capitol that allowed him to, in fact, centralize power.

NARRATOR: Soviet Deputy Premiere Anastas Mikoyan arrived in Havana t on February 3, 1960 to inaugurate a technological and cultural exhibit. For three days he was feted in tropical splendor. For the Soviets, it was a foray into a world filled with opportunity; for Americans, it was the beginning of a Cold War nightmare.

WAYNE SMITH, U.S. DIPLOMAT: Our fear was twofold number one that, uh, the Soviets might somehow use Cuba in such a way as to threaten the U.S. security. Number two, that Castro's revolution would strengthen the Soviet hand in Latin America.

TIM NAFTALI: Cuba, 90 miles away from Florida, is an aircraft carrier for the Soviets. It is something that they've never had before. It is a place from which they can project power. That island of Cuba was the off-shore base that the Soviet Union had always wanted to have next to the United States.

ARCHIVAL FILM: Crisis in Cuba. Anti-Castro leaflets are scattered over the city by a plane based in the United States and reportedly flown by Castro's former air force chief. United States gets much of the blame for...

NARRATOR: For some time now, relations between the United States and Cuba had deteriorated. As Castro fanned the flames of Cuban nationalism, playing up a history of American domination.

JAMES BLIGHT: The American government would send in its Ambassador, Philip Bonsal, to say, "look, we understand, the American enterprises are over-represented here. The drug companies, the oil companies, the cement companies, Bell Telephone -- Let's talk about this." Instead of talking, Fidel Castro would go out and make a four or five hour speech condemning American imperialism and bringing a million people into the square and sending them off really rabid with anti-American fervor.

JORGE DOMINGUEZ: At some point in February, March 1959, Fidel Castro had come to the decision that there could not be a revolution in Cuba, that he could not build the Cuba that he wanted, unless he extirpated the United States from Cuba. And at that point, there was very little the U.S. government could do to shake that conviction.

NARRATOR: At the end of Mikoyan's visit Castro signed an agreement with the Soviet Union that would seal the fate of Cuba-US relations. The Soviets would provide oil in exchange for Cuban sugar.

WILLIAM LEOGRANDE: This was a time when most Latin American countries had no relationship whatsoever with the Soviet Union. And to forge such a relationship was seen by Washington as deserting the United States in the Cold War.

WAYNE SMITH: Our interpretation was that Castro had made his decision. He was going to side with the Soviet Union and therefore we lost interest in negotiations and in March of 1960. President Eisenhower signed the finding, which authorized the CIA to begin actions to get rid of the Castro regime.

NARRATOR: In June, the first major shipment of Soviet crude oil arrived. Castro requested that American oil companies in Cuba refine one million barrels of the Soviet crude. They refused. On June 29 the Cuban government nationalized the oil companies.

SOT: (captioned) What choice did the revolutionary government have? To betray our people?

CASTRO: (captioned) Instead of being loyal to our people, should we have been loyal to American monopolies that exploited our country?

NARRATOR: That September, Castro lashed out at the US before the United Nations, and flaunted his new friendship with Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev. The following month, the Eisenhower administration imposed a trade embargo against Cuba.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- HAGARTY: There is a limit to what the United states and self-respect can endure. That limit has now been reached.

NARRATOR: On January third, 1961, the United States broke relations with Cuba. The departure of Cubans to the United States, which began shortly after the revolution, turned into an exodus.

ALFREDO DURAN: Batista people were the first to arrive here. Then political figures started arriving and finally, the people whose property were being threatened, or confiscated.

NARRATOR: Cuban exiles organized themselves into an anti-Castro movement, in close contact with the opposition within Cuba.

MARIFELI PEREZ STABLE: The overwhelming majority of the people -- who opposed Castro in 1959, 1960, 1961 had opposed Batista and, and so they were -- they felt doubly aggrieved. They had fought for a free democratic Cuba. And what they got was an emerging dictatorship, the elimination of most private property, and a menacing alliance with the Soviet Union.

NARRATOR: An urban underground as powerful as the resistance against Batista now fought against Castro. Almost nightly stores were bombed, sugar cane fields burned, factories sabotaged. And in the Escambray Mountains, in the center of Cuba, an insurrection had taken hold.

MARIFELI PEREZ STABLE: This was a largely, although not exclusively, peasant rebellion against the Cuban revolution. The Cuban government, in the '60s, had mobilized four times between fifty and one hundred thousand milicianos to fight the rebels, to clean, to sweep the Escambray. The area became so dangerous for the government that they forcibly transferred thousands of peasant families out of the Escambray and relocated them in different parts of Cuba.

NARRATOR: While the internal resistance fought the Cuban government, the CIA trained an Army of exiles in Guatemala, for an invasion of Cuba.

ALFREDO DURAN: When I went and volunteered to be part of what ultimately turned out to be the Bay of Pigs invasion, I really thought that what we were going to do was go and train as guerillas and go and train as underground individuals who would organize a massive uprising in Cuba. The concept of the invasion, I think, caught by surprise most of the people who were in the Bay of Pigs.

NARRATOR: President John F. Kennedy launched the U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba on April 15th, 1961 when he authorized B-26 planes to bomb Cuba's major airports, destroying most, but not all of Castro's airforce.

NORBERTO FUENTES (SPANISH): In the bombardment, there's a boy who is mortally wounded and then he dips his finger in his own guts and writes with his blood, on a door "Fidel." They take the fragment of a door to Fidel, who is deeply moved by this sixteen year old boy, who in his final moment of agony demonstrated his devotion with his blood.

NARRATOR: The next day, Fidel Castro declared, for he first time, that his revolution was socialist. Immediately, he ordered the arrest of at least 20,000 Cubans identified as opponents to the regime. For the next hours he anxiously awaited news. At dawn on April 17, 1400 Cuban exiles landed at Bay of Pigs, on the Zapata Swamp, a site chosen at the last minute. Fidel, personnaly took over the island's defense. Surrounded by the Cuban army, pounded from the ground and from the air, the exiles stood no chance. Seventy two hours later, they surrended.

WILLIAM LEOGRANDE: The Bay of Pigs invasion so closely associates, uh, opposition to the revolution with the United States, that Castro is able to wrap himself in the Cuban flag and declares any kind of opposition to the revolution as treason. And in most countries, treason is punishable by death.

BRIAN LATELL: That was a very dramatic turning point, a very decisive moment. Castro's credibility, his strength, in Cuba and through Latin America was enormously enhanced. His revolution, at that moment, was more consolidated than it had ever been before. He had done what no Latin American leader before him had ever done, and that was to defeat a really significant challenge mounted by the united States.



NARRATOR: In November 1961, seven months after the failure of the Bay of Pigs, President John Kennedy put his brother, Robert, in charge of a covert operation to get rid of Fidel Castro. Determined to avenge the President's humiliation on the beaches of Cuba, the Attorney General would stop at nothing. He engaged hundreds of CIA operatives in economic sabotage and infiltration missions. Old mafia contacts were dusted off to carry out harebrained assassination schemes: Arsenic in Castro's milkshake. Poison in his cigars. Spray powders on his boots to make his beard fall off.

WILLIAM LEOGRANDE: There's no question Fidel Castro thinks that the United States will try again after the failure of the Bay of Pigs. He sees the covert programs that are already underway trying to assassinate him, trying to sabotage the economy and he expects that the next time the United States will use its own troops since the exile army was such a failure.

NARRATOR: On October 14, photographs by U2 spy planes, revealed that the Soviets were constructing ballistic missile sites in Cuba -- to house missiles that could reach the United States.

TIM NAFTALI: Fidel had not wanted the nuclear missiles. The Cuban request was for tanks, surface to air missiles, and for some, perhaps some Soviet soldiers. But once Fidel got them, he saw their value, and he loved the fact that they scared the Gringoes.

NARRATOR: For the next 13 days the world came closer to nuclear war than at any other time. The missiles intended to defend Cuba had only served to endanger it, as the island now faced the threat of an imminent US invasion. On October 27th, Castro dictated a letter to Ambassador Aleksander Alekseev, meant for Nikita Khrushchev.

TIM NAFTALI: According to Alexeev's own account, Fidel dictated it ten times and at the very end, the letter was still red-hot. Fidel was basically telling Khrushchev, that if the Soviet Union had to use nuclear weapons to defend the socialist world and if that meant that Cuba might be sacrificed, that's OK.

JAMES BLIGHT: He had concluded that actually he had one of two choices. The choice was for Cuba to be destroyed and for Cuba to be destroyed, but for a reason. And you know, Khrushchev's reaction to this was, "That guy's nuts. It sounds like he's telling me to blow up the world!"

CARLOS FRANQUI (SPANISH): I was in my office preparing the Monday paper, when I read on the teletype, "Khrushchev orders missiles removed from Cuba." I called Fidel, and asked him, "What do I do with this cable?" Because I could not imagine he didn't know it. And for five minutes, we went back and forth. Until he said, "read it to me again." And that's how he found out.

NARRATOR: Castro called Khrushchev, a bastard, an SOB. Enraged, he shattered a huge mirror that hung in his office. He retreated to La Plata, his old guerrilla camp in the Sierra Maestra, to nurse his grievances. Friends remarked on his decline. He was gaunt - his brown eyes larger and darker than ever.

WILLIAM LEOGRANDE: He sees that the Soviet Union will treat him in the same way the United States has treated Cuba historically. Great powers treat small powers as if they're inconsequential. And he never again trusts the Soviet Union fully.

ARCHIVAL FILM: Gentlemen of the Brigade, I need not tell you how happy I am...

NARRATOR: In December 1962, President Kennedy spoke to the surviving members of the Bay of Pigs. They had been ransomed for 53 million dollars worth of food and medicine. " I can assure you that it is the strongest wish of the people of this country, that Cuba shall one day be free again."

NARRATOR: But Kennedy had made a pledge. At the end of the missile crisis, he promised Khrushchev the United States would not invade Cuba.

JAMES BLIGHT: Kennedy took one look at Cuba after the missile crisis and said I'm out of here. I don't want to mess with these -- look it almost got us blown up. Let's -- OK, you got to do a little something with the covert operations and Bobby, my brother, will handle that. But no more messing around so that the Soviets come in here. I don't want this island on my chart anymore.

NARRATOR In the 1960s Cuba became a Mecca for a young generation, committed to transforming the world.

MARIFELI PEREZ STABLE: It was an anti-imperialist era. The old colonialism was breaking down and the movements for national liberation in Africa and in Asia, the war in Vietnam, Castro was very much a part of that landscape.

GEORGIE ANNE GEYER: There was a very, very real sense that this was the revolutionary capital of the world. There were many, many Americans, Europeans and others there who were madly in love with Fidel Castro. He's very amusing, when he wants to charm you, he can really charm you.


RICARDO BOFILL (SPANISH): He was a populist. He mixed with the people. Fidel Castro would go to a farm and throw his arm around a woman and say, "Sister, how are those chicks coming along?" For all his arrogance, he has a special touch with people.

GEORGIE ANNE GEYER: Women loved Fidel. Women were just crazy about him. And after the revolution, particularly, they just swarmed all over him. Fidel never wanted any information about his ladies -- his women in his life because, with any charismatic leader, that dilutes the effectiveness. He has to remain mythical. He has to remain distant.

NARRATOR Fidel's alleged affairs became the talk of Havana and one affair in particular, with a mystery woman, a woman from the city of Trinidad.

NORBERTO FUENTES (SPANISH): He meets Dalia in 1961, in the literacy campaign. He fell pretty hard for her. And took her places in 64, 65, and he has been living with her ever since. He married her in 1980.

NARRATOR: It would be years before the world learned that Fidel had a wife, Dalia Soto del Valle, five children and even grandchildren.

NARRATOR: In an effort to patch up relations, Khrushchev invited Castro to visit the Soviet Union, in April of 1963.

TIM NAFTALI: Fidel brought the old guard of the Soviet leadership back to their own youth. The days when they were struggling as revolutionaries. Um, it had a remarkable effect on the Soviet spirits.

NARRATOR: Castro reveled in his popularity and enjoyed the privileges reserved for the Soviet elite. He even indulged in a bit of daydreaming. During a hunting trip at Khrushchev's country dacha, he could not help himself from wondering what would happen if he accidentally shot the Soviet Premier?

JAMES BLIGHT: The terms of the Soviet-Cuban military and civilian relationship was pretty much blueprinted on that trip. From that point forward Cubans never paid a penny for any military hardware. They asked and then they received, more or less. The other part was that the Soviets would buy sugar at inflated prices, they would sell oil at deflated prices, and this one would -- this would be paradise.

NARRATOR: In 1966, before an audience of Third World revolutionaries, Fidel Castro reiterated his most unwavering commitment.

CASTRO: (captioned) We revolutionary Cubans understand our international obligations. Our people understand their obligation because they understand that we face a common enemy. The enemy that threatens Cuba is the same enemy that threatens everyone else. That is why we say and we proclaim that Cuban fighters will lend support to any revolutionary movement in any corner of the earth.

GEORGIE ANNE GEYER: Fidel was engaged in this worldwide movement to really overthrow governments from Zanzibar to El Salvador to Nicaragua all over Central Africa, he helped in Vietnam, in Libya, in Algeria, in Syria. They had training camps for guerillas all over Cuba and at different parts of the world. I don't think they anyone has any idea of what a big thing Fidel's adventures and ambitions led him to in the 1960's and even into the 70's.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- CHE AT UNITED NATIONS: (captioned) Now the world must recognize poor of Latin America.

NARRATOR: While Castro built a world revolutionary movement, the Argentine Ché Guevara became its most visible advocate.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- CHE AT UNITED NATIONS: The people who have begun to write their own history. They have said, "Enough!" and begun to march.

NARRATOR: Eloquent and idealistic, the dashing Guevara had acquired a reputation and a following second only to Fidel's.

GEORGIE ANNE GEYER: There was simply not enough space by the mid-60's for both the gigantic personalities of Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Ché" Guevara in Cuba. And the one that was going to leave was Ché.

NORBERTO FUENTES (SPANISH): Fidel's relationship with Ché is the same as with anyone else. You're useful to him one day and not the next. Ché tells Fidel is in Cuba only to train to go to other countries. Fidel says, "If that's what you want."

NARRATOR: Disguised as a businessman, Ché Guevara arrived in the Bolivian Andes in November 1966. He and a small band of Cubans hoped to ignite a continental revolution which would, transform the Andean Mountains into the Sierra Maestra."

ARCHIVAL FILM -- LYNDON JOHNSON: The American nation cannot, must not, and will not...

NARRATOR: By then, President Lyndon Johnson was determined to stop the spread of communism.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- LYNDON JOHNSON: and will not permit the establishment of another communist government in the western hemisphere.

NARRATOR: And the Soviet leadership, who had never fully supported Castro's revolutionary adventures decided to put an end to them.

JAMES BLIGHT: Khrushchev is gone in October of '64, Leonid Brezhnev takes over. His number one priority is arms control negotiations with the United States. And these damned little Cubans are really ruining everything because the Americans say we can't start arms control until you, Soviets, bring these guys under control. This was the ultimatum that Brezhnev gave Castro in -- roughly April of '67. We're not exactly sure of the date. This is in a letter to Castro. If they didn't rein in their revolutionary activities, Brezhnev would give the green light to Lyndon Johnson to go into Cuba.

NARRATOR: Bolivia. July 1967: Ché wrote in his diary, "The negative aspects prevail, including the failure to make contact with the outside. We are down to 22 men, three of whom are disabled, including myself." For months, Ché complained of being betrayed by Bolivia's Soviet-run Communist party and of having no contact with Havana.

GEORGIE ANNE GEYER: The interesting thing about Ché in Bolivia was that he was in the eastern high Andes, which are readily accessible by, for anyone who knew where he was. Fidel knew where he was, but he cut off all radio contact with Ché in Bolivia. And I went there, went in his footsteps, talked to his guerilla group. He could've sent someone up from Paraguay. He could've sent someone out from La Paz, the capital. There was no contact. Ché is left wandering around this very wild, high jungle.

NARRATOR: On October 8, hungry, sick, cut off from the outside world, Ché Guevara and his handful of guerrillas were surrounded by the Bolivian Rangers, an elite army unit trained in counter-insurgency by the United States. Ché was taken prisoner. The next day he was executed. In death, Ché Guevara would become an icon of revolution.

NARRATOR: As the prospects of world revolution dimmed, Fidel Castro turned his energies back toward transforming Cuban society. He set out to build Communism in record time -- faster than the Soviet Union, even China. Fidel would even try to mold a new man, selfless, dedicated, incorruptible. There were some real achievements: children in Cuba did not go hungry. The sons and daughters of peasants and workers received a free education, one day becoming the engineers and doctors of revolutionary Cuba. Hospitals and clinics were built in the farthest reaches of the island -- the foundation of a system that would eventually deliver health care to all Cubans. Prostitution and gambling virtually disappeared. But Cuba's socialist economy bordered on disaster. The U.S. embargo, the flight of managers and technicians to the United States, and economic mismanagement had left factories idle, store shelves empty, basic goods strictly rationed. La cola -- the waiting line to purchase whatever was available--became the staple of daily life. Cubans called Castro "El Señor Habrá" -- Mr. There-Will-Be -- and joked that if Spanish lacked a future tense, Castro would be rendered speechless. But Cubans could do little more than trade jokes. In Castro's Cuba, criticism was not permitted. There were no newspapers, except official ones. No books, except those sanctioned by the regime. Artists, hippies, homosexuals, Jehovah Witnesses, were labeled "antisocial," rounded up, and sent to labor camps. Jails filled with prisoners -- who simply spoke out against the regime and to those who committed acts of violence.

2ND MAN: (captioned) I was fighting in the mountains. They think that I killed people.

REPORTER (OFF CAMERA): Was that true?

2ND MAN: I don't know. I was judged in a tribunal.

REPORTER (OFF CAMERA): Did you have a fair trial?

MAN: No.

MARIFELI PEREZ STABLE: There were thousands of political prisoners. Castro himself, in the mid 1960s, admitted to 20,000 which is already a staggering number already makes Cuba one of the highest, if not the highest, for per capita political imprisonment in Latin America's 20th Century. The figure was probably closer to forty or maybe even fifty thousand.

NARRATOR: In March of 1968, Castro moved to eliminate the last vestiges of Capitalism in Cuba. He decreed all private businesses illegal - street vendors, neighborhood cafes, shoe repair shops. "Fixing a toaster in Cuba," one visiting economist commented, "has now become a matter of State."

WILLIAM LEOGRANDE:He traveled in the 1960s, constantly around the island, checking up on local managers and administrators, and trying to solve problems himself, first-hand. He didn't delegate authority. And the result, of course, is that Fidel could not be everywhere. And so consequently, -- when he wasn't there to make a decision, the decision didn't get made because no one else felt they had the authority to make the decision.

JORGE DOMINGUEZ:Fidel Castro is an enormously self-confident man, and he understands who he is, what he wants to do, where he wants to go, and he believes that he can do it. He fails to understand that there are many things he does not know. That there are a great many instances where people do not support him and he will not be able to accomplish his goal.

NARRATOR: Fidel undertook one scheme after another: draining the Zapata swamp, planting a circle of dwarf coffee around Havana, creating a new breed of cattle.

CARLOS FRANQUI (SPANISH): Cuba was going to produce more cheese than Switzerland, more meat than France, more many things, that I think that man believed them because Fidel Castro believe his own words. And that's the most dangerous thing.

NARRATOR: As one project faltered, Castro moved on to the next, always looking for "the silver bullet." Finally, he turned to sugar, Cuba's traditional crop. And staked his reputation on producing 10 million tons of sugar in 1970.

FIDEL CASTRO: And we've already said not one pound less than the 10 million. That's the problem -- and it needs to be addressed and corrected. And it would be an incredible embarrassment if we were to fall short of the 10 million.

JORGE DOMINGUEZ: The idea was, in effect, to double the size of the country's, uh, sugar harvest and it meant turning Cuba upside down.

NARRATOR: Everyone was mobilized: factory workers, students, housewives; volunteers came from all over the world. Vietnam, North Korea, the United States. But no matter how hard Fidel swung his machete, or how often he called on others to give their best, Cubans could not turn his dream into reality.

JORGE DOMINGUEZ: Instead of ten million, eight and a half million metric tons of sugar were produced in 1970. It was nonetheless the largest sugar harvest in Cuban history. But it was a failure because the goal was not achieved and because Cuban resources were destroyed and because the country, instead of free, powerful and independent, was in a state of virtual collapse.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- FIDEL: (captioned) I am not going to beat around the bush. For me, like any other Cuban, this is a very difficult moment. Perhaps more difficult than any other experience in our revolutionary struggle.

NARRATOR: The Soviet Union stepped in. Fidel would no longer be allowed to run the economy from his jeep. A powerful Council of Ministers would make all major decisions in concert with the Soviet bloc. Ten thousand Soviet advisors would lend a hand.

BRIAN LATELL: Castro presided over the revolution's essential capitulation to, uh, to Soviet demands. Organizational demands, structural demands, foreign policy demands. And perhaps one of the hardest things for Castro to accept was that he agreed to stop criticizing the Soviet Union in any fashion, direct or veiled criticism.

NARRATOR: Delighted, Moscow rewarded Cuba with subsidies of up to 6 billion dollars per year.


LEOGRANDE: The economy began to recover in 1970, through about 1976, 1977. People had a real feeling of hope that the sacrifices of the 1960s were paying off economically.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- KISSINGER: We see no virtue in perpetual antagonism between the United States and Cuba. Our concern relates, above all, to Cuba's export of revolution.

NARRATOR: On March 1, 1975, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made a surprising announcement.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- KISSINGER: We have taken some symbolic steps to indicate that we are prepared to move in a new direction, if Cuba will.

NARRATOR: It was the era of US-Soviet détente, and the President Gerald Ford moved to normalize relations with Cuba, and to end the fifteen-year old economic embargo.

BARBARA WALTERS: What would you like Americans to know about you and Cuba? And could you possibly say it in English, so they could understand?

CASTRO: In English? I am not well in English.

WALTERS: OK, then, in Spanish.

CASTRO: Good wish to the people of the United States.

WALTERS: Good wishes.

CASTRO: Wish of understanding. Wish of friendship. I understand it is not easy. We belong to two different worlds. But I, we are [aside in Spanish] neighbors. And in one way or another, we ought to live in peace. The United States and Cuba.

NARRATOR: That Fall, the State Department announced Cuba and the United States were ready to begin an official dialogue. But all along, Fidel Castro had had his eye on a situation developing half a world away, and preparing Cuba for its first large-scale war. In West Africa, the Portuguese colony of Angola, about to become independent, was fast sliding into civil war. The Marxist Movement for the Liberation of Angola, the MPLA, asked Castro for military assistance to fight against its rivals, backed by South Africa. Fidel Castro faced a tough choice: intervention in Angola or rapprochement with the United States. On November 7th, three days before Independence Day, Cuban troops arrived in force. The U.S. government was caught by surprise.

BRIAN LATELL: The rapprochement, or normalization with the United States, was derailed. He placed a higher priority on his internationalist revolutionary objectives than on better relations with the United States.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- CASTRO: (captioned) What kinds of conditions does imperialist U.S. think it can impose on our country? We are in solidarity with Angola. We are helping Angola, and we will continue to help the people of Angola.

NARRATOR: By January 1976 there were 15,000 Cuban troops in Angola. Armed and supplied by the Soviet Union, they pushed back the Army of South Africa and secured the MPLA in power.

WILLIAM LEOGRANDE: The Cuban intervention in Angola identifies Cuba as a country that's willing to take a risk, willing to put its own interests on the line, willing to provoke a confrontation with the United States in support of national liberation in Africa. It boosts Cuba's prestige in the Third World enormously.

NARRATOR: Castro assumed the role of leader of a major power. His doctors and teachers were serving as far away as Yemen. His troops were fighting in Angola and Ethiopia, in close alliance with the Soviet Union. Soon he would play a key role in another war...the Sandinista insurrection against Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua.

NORBERTO FUENTES (SPANISH): The Sandinista victory in Nicaragua was directed by Fidel Castro from the headquarters of Cuba's Special Forces. They had broken the codes of Somoza's army. Fidel knew all the movements and told the Sandinistas where to lay ambushes, what to do, until they took power. That was a war directed by Fidel.

NARRATOR: It was Castro's first victory in the Western Hemisphere, one he'd been waiting for since 1959.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- CASTRO: (captioned) Revolutionaries cannot be pessimistic. Revolutionaries are, and always will be, optimistic. We will not be intimidated. Our peoples have shown that they can struggle and persevere.

CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER (SPANISH): He sees himself as the spearhead of a great socialist revolution and he believes that in ten years all the Caribbean is going to be dominated by Cuba. And he was going to play the key role to beat the other "great power" and he sees himself as a figure of that stature.

NARRATOR: In September 1979, Fidel Castro was elected leader of Movement of Non-Aligned Nations. One month later, he traveled to New York to address the UN.

REPORTER OFF CAMERA: And you're always wearing your bullet roof vest?

CASTRO: What suit?

REPORTER OFF CAMERA: Everyone always says you have a bullet proof vest.

CASTRO: No...I will land in New York like this. I have a moral one...A moral vest. It's strong.

BRIAN LATELL: Those months of the fall of 1979, really were the apogee of his triumphs. Here he was, the duly chosen, selected president of the nonaligned countries -- the Asian, African, Middle Eastern and Latin American countries. How can you be a loyal, dependable Soviet ally and at the same time be the leader of the nonaligned nations? Well, Castro was able to carry out that exquisite, seemingly impossible balancing act, until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

WILLIAM LEOGRANDE: Here you had the Soviet Union occupying a non-aligned country. Cuba was caught, then, between its constituency among the nonaligned and its partnership with the Soviet Union, and it refused to denounce the invasion of Afghanistan and lost extraordinary credibility with the rest of the nonaligned countries.

NARRATOR: The following spring, Castro faced an unexpected crisis, when an incident at an Embassy in Havana spiraled out of control.

WAYNE SMITH: This bus, Cubans seeking asylum in the Peruvian embassy, crashes through the gates. Now, the two guards on each side are firing at the bus, but as the bus goes through, they, they shoot each other. And so, Castro takes a position: we're not going to risk the lives of our policemen to keep people out of embassies when we don't care if they go in. So they removed the guards. Bad mistake because within three days you have 10,000 people inside the Peruvian embassy and more headed there from all over the island.

BRIAN LATELL: He was totally preoccupied with international affairs in the fall and winter of 1979. I'm convinced that he was not aware of the depth of unrest on the island, the unrest that was steadily growing below the surface.

NARRATOR Castro was enraged. He branded the refugees "escoria" - trash. Anyone who wanted to leave Cuba, he announced, was free to go.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- CASTRO: We don't want them. We don't need them.

NARRATOR: Cubans who so publicly turned their back on Castro's revolution were subjected to every humiliation: harassment, even beatings, in full view of the newly opened U.S. Interest Section in Havana.

WAYNE SMITH: They were brought here in trucks and buses. They were brought here in trucks and buses. This is stimulated by the government and the foreign minister will not answer the phone...

NARRATOR: In Miami, the Cuban exile community organized a massive sealift, which received the blessing of President Jimmy Carter.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- CARTER: We are the most generous nation on earth, in receiving the refugees seeking freedom from Communist domination and from economic deprivation, brought about primarily by Fidel Castro and his government.

NARRATOR: The flotilla anchored at the Port of Mariel, where tens of thousands were waiting.

ARHCIVAL FILM: We're taking whatever people, you know, they give us. We got crazy people, we got prisoners, they say political prisoners, we got some criminals. Who knows what kind of people we got here?

NARRATOR: Castro," one senior US official remarked, "is using people like bullets aimed at this country."

BRIAN LATELL: Castro wanted to inflict the greatest possible pain on the United States. And he wanted perhaps to contaminate in a sense, the Cuban exile community. Because at that time the Cuban exile community was beginning to, to acquire considerable political influence in the American political process.

NARRATOR: By September, 125,000 refugees had arrived in Miami. Overwhelmed by the influx, Jimmy Carr put an end to the boatlift.

JORGE DOMINGUEZ: Mariel was a shame because it was not just Cuba's upper class that immigrated but ordinary factory workers immigrated. Some of Cuba's leading intellectuals. Many young people who had grown up under the revolution immigrated as well. But Mariel was also a shame because the regime showed its ugly side to the international community when it deported common criminals to the United States, committing an act of aggression. Not just against the imperialist U.S. government, but against the American people.

NARRATOR: Mariel had not yet faded from memory when Fidel Castro faced a new challenge.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- REAGAN: As for the enemies of freedom ...

NARRATOR: President Ronald Reagan came to office determined to wage war on Communism, beginning close to home. Reagan authorized the CIA to train an army, the "contras," to wage war against Castro's Sandinista allies in Nicaragua. He sent American troops to invade the island of Grenada, a Cuban ally, where for the first time Castro's men faced American soldiers. And set out to expose Castro's Human Rights record, building on the testimony of political prisoners recently released from Cuban jails.

ARMANDO VALLADARES, POLITICAL PRISONER (SPANISH): I have the sad memory that three of my cellmates were murdered in prison. The first was Roberto López Chávez. He was sixteen years old when he was first imprisoned. Another of my cell mates was Pedro Luis Boitel, a student leader Castro hated with all his heart. Boitel went on a hunger strike and Fidel Castro ordered that his cell door not be opend until he died of thirst. He died of thirst fifty-three days later, like these, hundreds and hundreds of assassinations and torture.

RICARDO BOFILL (SPANISH): Those prisons were killing machines. People were not only deprived of their liberty, what the government wanted was to eliminate all counter-revolutionaries. La Cabaña, Isla de Pinos...all those stories. Words cannot express all the suffering and anguish, because words pale against the reality behind them.

NARRATOR: In March 1987, the U.S. delegation in Geneva requested that the U.N. Human Rights Commission condemn Cuba for "massive, systematic and flagrant abuses of human rights." The next year, under pressure, Castro invited the commission to Cuba to investigate. From Havana, Ricardo Bofill encouraged witnesses to come forward.

ARCHIVAL FILM: (captioned) Ricardo Bofill doesn't worry us. I can't judge what he'll do or won't do. I've no idea what his attitude may be. It doesn't matter -- fireworks against the reality of History. Not to worry!

RICARDO BOFILL (SPANISH): The Commission met at the Commodore Hotel in Havana. Hundreds of people came. The relatives of people who had been executed, including those murdered in the Escambray, people who had been tortured, of prisoners unjustly jailed. In short, witnesses of violations of practically all 30 articles of the Declaration of Human Rights.

NARRATOR:: The Commission's findings were documented in a four hundred page report and presented in Geneva.

JORGE DOMINGUEZ: It is at that moment when even activists from the political left, when left-wing democratic politicians begin to say to the Cuban government, your violation of the human rights of ordinary Cubans is wrong and unacceptable even by the standards of the international left, that the Cuban government finds itself cornered, humiliated, and for the first time understands that it is losing allies everywhere.

NARRATOR: In April 1989, Soviet Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev paid an overdue visit to Fidel Castro's Cuba. For four years now, Gorbachev had pushed economic and political reform in the Soviet Union, and expectations in Cuba had been running high.

ANDRES OPPENHEIMER, JOURNALIST: There was almost euphoria that Cuba would follow the steps, which they had been doing for several decades, of the Soviet Union, in opening up. And the people I was talking to in the Cuban Communist Party, were very, very enthusiastic that Cuba would open up just as the Soviet Union had opened up.

NARRATOR: But by the time of Gorbachev's visit, those who expected Fidel to embrace Perestroika and Glasnost were bitterly disappointed. "Openness and reform are dangerous," Fidel had declared in July of 1988, "and represent a threat to fundamental socialist principles."

CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER (SPANISH): Fidel Castro believes the United States is going to have an economic crisis and is going to collapse, and that everyone will see he is the one who is right. And that Cuba is going to remain a breeding ground of Revolution. That is, Cuba was going to be the Jurassic Park of communism.

NARRATOR: But it was the Soviet Union that collapsed in 1991.

JORGE DOMINGUEZ: From the first time Fidel Castro appears on Cuba's national stage, July 26, 1953, he has been convinced that history is on his side and he believes so for the decades that follow, until the Soviet Union collapses. All of a sudden, he knew that his world had come to an end.

NORBERTO FUENTES (SPANISH): The collapse of the Soviet Union was a blow. He aged at that moment, and in fact he said. "We never thought the sun would stop shinning. And it did."

ARCHIVAL FILM -- CASTRO: May our country always have dignity, always be independent, not a Yankee colony. We must save our country. We must save the Revolution. We must save socialism. Socialism or death!

ANDRES OPPENHEIMER: Fidel was telling Cubans to preserve the revolution, and to preserve socialism, they had to tighten their belts and, uh, replace cars with oxen, and uh, go back to the stone ages and live in caves if necessary. He said that, actually, I'm not making this up. So, the stuff you saw, like, uh, on the streets and everywhere, were amazing, crazy.

JAMES BLIGHT: Between the spring of 1992 and the spring of 1994, we were stunned at what had happened. Everybody was in such terrible shape that it was hard to believe they could pull themselves out of what they called this special period. It looked as if the Cuban Revolution, the regime of Fidel Castro, was finished

NARRATOR: In Miami, the exile community waited for Fidel to fall, and lobbied Washington to tighten the Embargo. But Castro refused to give in. He exported discontent, by making it legal for anyone leave Cuba -- unleashing a new exodous. In a stunning reversal, Castro opened Cuba to foreign investments, and foreign tourists and allowed U.S. dollars to circulate freely. The economy improved. But prostitution, corruption, and speculation flourished.

ALCIBIADES HIDALGO (SPANISH): There is a great chasm between the promise of the revolution and its results. Fidel has always been a man of promises. He wooed the Cuban people with promises. The end result was a dictatiorship, pure and simple, each day more stripped of the attributes that once made it attractive.

NARRATOR: For more than four decades, Fidel Castro ruled Cuba, inspiring many with visions of a brilliant future, and silencing those who dared oppose him. Striding across the world stage in a role never intended for the leader of a small island in the shadow of the United States.

BRIAN LATELL: He managed to remain in power longer than almost any other leader in the last 100 or 200 years.

ARCHIVAL FILM -- CASTRO: (captioned) Only now do I understand that my destiny was not to rest near the end of my life.

BRIAN LATELL: It's a remarkable tenure. And it's testament to his political skills; to his ability to manage crisis, to anticipate crisis; to play as a grandmaster at chess; to play two and three moves ahead.

WAYNE SMITH: Castro plays David to our Goliath masterfully. Wherever Castro goes, he is applauded. Not because people want to adopt the Cuban system, no, because he has defied the United States and survived.

CARLOS FRANQUI (SPANISH): As a Cuban, I wish more could be salvaged because it would make it easier to rebuild Cuba. Cuba was a nation with a history, a culture, with an economy, that needed reform, but not the madness of more than four decades.

NARRATOR: For Cuba, January 1959 was a time of glory, a time when all things seemed possible. When an entire nation placed its hopes in just one man.


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