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1959: Rebel army drives out Cuban dictator
The President of Cuba, Fulgencio Batista, has fled the country, his government in ruins, in the face of a relentless advance by the rebel army led by a 32-year-old lawyer, Fidel Castro.

Thousands of Cubans took to the streets in celebration this morning as word spread of Batista's departure for the Dominican Republic in the early hours of this morning.

There was a carnival atmosphere as cars cruised through the streets of the capital, Havana, with Cuban flags draped over their bonnets, blowing their horns continuously.

A large crowd gathered at the Principe prison as high court judges issued orders granting the release of hundreds of political prisoners.

Ceasefire

President Batista handed over to a nominal military junta before he left.

They ordered a ceasefire and appealed to the rebel forces of Dr Fidel Castro for co-operation.

Dr Castro, however, announced this morning on rebel radio that operations would continue.

"The triumph of the revolution must be complete," he said.

Anarchy

There appeared to be little sign of anyone in charge on the streets of Havana today, as the city descended into anarchy.

People armed with steel bars overturned virtually every parking meter in the city.

Hundreds of slot machines from casinos - a symbol of the corruption of Batista's regime - were dragged into the street and smashed. One casino was looted.

The homes of relatives and close friends of President Batista were also looted, as were the houses of the former Minister of the Interior, Santiago Rey, and his hated police chief, Colonel Esteban Ventura.

Growing support

The rebel movement has gone from strength to strength in the last year.

They have had growing support from the general population since President Batista, who came to power in a coup in 1952, began cracking down with increasing ruthlessness on any signs of dissent.

In one of the worst examples, even some of Batista's supporters expressed concern after police tortured or summarily hanged those suspected of organising a general strike last April.

Some of those killed were still in their teens.

In latter years, he has headed an increasingly ruthless and corrupt police state.

He once boasted that he was one of the most shot-at heads of state in the world, and never appeared in public without being surrounded by bodyguards.

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Watch/Listen
Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro, a 32-year-old lawyer, has growing support for his rebel movement

Interview with a victorious Castro



In Context
President Batista lived the rest of his life in exile in Portugal and Spain. He died in 1973.

His police chief, Esteban Ventura, was controversially granted a permanent visa for the United States in 1979.

Washington refused repeated attempts to extradite him to stand trial for acts he is alleged to have committed in the latter days of the Batista regime.

He died of a heart attack, aged 87, in Miami in 2001.

Fidel Castro took control on 2 January, although initially he did not take political office.

However, by July he had become president, and Cuba has been a one-party state ever since.

One of Dr Castro's first moves was to nationalise American-owned utilities and sugar estates.

The policy was the start of an antagonism between the two nations which has dominated the Castro regime.

In 1962, Fidel Castro brought the world to the brink of nuclear war as his alliance with the USSR provoked the Cuban missile crisis.

Diplomatic relations have never been restored, and the US continues to enforce trade sanctions against Fidel Castro's regime.

Stories From 1 Jan


 
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