HAVANA, Jan. 2, 1959 (UPI) - At 32, Fidel Castro has established himself as one of the great political adventurers of modern times.
This intense young lawyer built his massive opposition to the government of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista from a corps of 12 men, the survivors of 81 companions who landed in Oriente Province from Mexico on Dec. 1, 1956.
Castro was not too well known to most Cubans then - just another of the score of political leaders who hoped to rally agitation against the autocrat, 57-year-old Batista. But two years of steady, if not always successful, warfare rallied to Castro the overwhelming support of freedom-loving Cubans that toppled Batista yesterday.
The big, sturdy, low-voiced revolutionary was born Aug. 13, 1926, to a Spanish father and an aristocratic Cuban mother. The senior Castro, a rich sugar cane and cattle rancher, died in 1956 and left his six children a fortune. By that time Fidel and his brother, Raoul, had dedicated their all to the opposition of Batista.
What compelled this six-foot, 200-pound scholar-athlete to abandon the comfortable life of a provincial lawyer for the rough existence of a guerrilla leader in the tropical forests of southern Cuba is still something of a mystery, although when he was a student at the University of Havana, he liked rifles as well as books.
Castro has an inborn theatricality that knows the value of the manifesto, kidnapping, jungle press conferences, and dramatic military sorties. Bloodshed has never deterred him from his goal.
Castro holds three university degrees, including a doctorate from Havana University. His horn-rimmed glasses might mark him as a professor, but his heavy black beard, rumpled attire and ever-present cigars give him the dash of virile leadership that set him apart from Batista's other challengers - tidy middle-aged politicians like Carlos Prio Socarras and Manuel Urrutia Lleo.
Castro broke off his studies in 1947 to take part in an abortive attempt to overthrow the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic.
He went underground when Batista seized the Cuban government by coup in 1952, but on July 26, 1953, he emerged as the leader of 200 young men in a vain attack on the Moncada barracks stronghold in Santiago.
Thus with one heroic gesture, which cost the lives of half his fighting force, Castro established himself as a leader of the opposition to Batista's dictatorship. He named his movement the "26 de Julio" in honor of his comrades' sacrifice.
Castro was captured after the Santiago incident and spent two years of a 15-year sentence in prison. After a period of exile in the United States he returned to Cuba in 1956. Yet even now, five and a half years after the beginning of the "26 de Julio" revolt, his political orientation is not completely clear.
Castro swears he is strongly opposed to communism, but his second-in-command, brother Raoul, is known to have spent two weeks behind the Iron Curtain attending an international student congress. Castro's announced program, when he invaded Cuba two years ago, was for quick nationalization of the nation's industries, but he has since watered down his economic program as a sup to U.S. opposition to drastic socialistic measures.
Today, Castro stands for extension of social security and a broadened program of industrialization to solve Cuba's chronic poverty and unemployment. He has called for land reform, limiting the amount of land any one plantation owner can hold. He wants to end government corruption, to re-establish political freedom and freedom of the press.
Castro's dedication to the cause of Cuban liberty has left him no time for a private life. His has been the life of the professional soldier - almost that of a consecrated monastic.
He was married in 1948 to a sister of one of Batista's officials, but was divorced by his wife in 1955.
She remarried a Batista official and has custody of their nine-year-old son, Fidel Jr.