Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar (born Rubén Zaldívar, January 16, 1901 – August 6, 1973) was a former president of Cuba, best known for being "the guy who was president before the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro." He was born Ruben Zaldivar in Banes, Oriente Province, to parents who were canecutters on a sugar plantation. Batista's father, Belisario, fought in the Spanish-American War or Cuban War of Independence and when he was 8, his mother, Carmela, died, forcing him to leave school and work in the canefields.
However, he eventually managed to get a job as a railroad brakeman which enabled him to attend night classes at a Quaker-run school. He joined the Cuban Army as a stenographer. While overseeing military trials for opponents of Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado, he fell into contact with the revolutionary prisoners and was radicalized. In 1933, he launched the Sergeants' Revolt, overthrowing Machado's corrupt government, appointed himself Chief of Staff, and installed a series of puppet presidents until he himself was elected in 1940. During his term as both kingmaker and elected President, he was very popular and progressive, pursuing left-wing policies and carrying out radical reforms, to the point that even the Cuban communists supported him - and in turn, they were under his control. Ultimately, he achieved all his goals and finished his term successfully. Despite this, however, he was unable to secure a re-election, and rumors abounded of him hiring thugs to intimidate dissenting journalists with castor oil, as well as consulting the US ambassador for his agreement on all government policy, and worsening the existing culture of systemic corruption to keep himself in power. He also turned away Jewish refugees from Germany, after demanding each passenger pay an exorbitant sum to stay in Cuba - and the ship was forced to return to Germany.
After doing everything in his power to handicap his successor administration with what time he had left in office, he left Cuba to live in the US for eight years, living in luxury. In 1952 he returned to Cuba to run for Cuban president again, but wound up running in dead last behind 2 other candidates. With defeat all but guaranteed, Batista, with military backing, overthrew the government and installed himself as its despotic President. During his dictatorship, in stark contrast to his 1940 presidency, he favored the elite instead of the people of Cuba that he had once supported. As a result, Havana became a playground for the Mafia and American tourists, essentially becoming the Las Vegas of the Caribbean, and the rest of the island became a playground for Corporate America. Corruption was rampant and the needs of actual Cubans were generally ignored. 2 out of every 3 Cubans living in the countryside had no access to basic household features such as running water, electricity, or even basic tiled floors. Batista's own reforms had failed within a decade, and he had no problem with the new state of affairs as long as he held power.
All those opposed to Batista's regime were brutally tortured and killed by the police, army and Rural Guard to the point where death became a common sight in Cuba, leading to many Cubans fleeing into exile in the US. Batista even had a murderous Secret Police of his own, the Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities or BRAC. As the Cuban Revolution got underway and more and more Cubans rallied under the nationalist banner of Fidel Castro, the persecution intensified - even teenagers were tortured and killed by the police. Such was the hatred towards Batista that middle-class Cubans and Cuban exiles would rally behind Castro and openly support his revolution, something that the exile community prefers not to discuss today. By 1958, Batista faced an arms embargo from the US, a disastrous all-out offensive that only strengthened the revolutionaries, and even Havana in revolt. On New Year's Eve, 1959, with Castro's army at the gates of Havana, he fled Cuba into exile, never to return.
However, within Havana and the few other major cities, life was about as good as it was possible to get in Latin America, due to a long trend of economic development and Batista's own progressive reforms that he ironically now shunned. Even in 1959, Cuba was a wealthy country by world standards. It ranked 5th in the hemisphere in per capita income, 3rd in life expectancy, 2nd in per capita ownership of automobiles, telephones, and television sets. Cuba's literacy rate, 76%, was the 3rd highest in Latin America. Cuba also ranked 11th in the world in the number of doctors per capita. Cuba's income distribution also compared favorably with that of other Latin American societies.
In 1958, growing antipathy from the US government at the utter brutality and sadism of the Batista regime led to the US imposing a weapons embargo on Cuba. About a year later, Batista was overthrown in the Grand Finale of an armed insurrection known as the Cuban Revolution by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and their left-wing nationalist 26th of July Movement. Batista then fled Cuba on New Year's Day, 1959, eventually finding refuge in Portugal where he lived for the rest of his life. Due to his role in Cuban history, he often appears as a character in productions set before or during the Cuban Revolution, most famously The Godfather.
- The movie The Lost City shows his Committee for the Suppression of Communist Activities shooting a wounded dissident.
- The Godfather: Part II features a direct appearance from him, while the TV series shows him and his family leaving Havana on boats with the rest of the city's rich.
- The 1979 movie Cuba is about a British major played by Sean Connery, who meets him and initially helps him train Cuban military troops in a counter-insurrection against Fidel Castro. As he realizes the sheer cruelty of the Batista regime, the major switches sides and backs Castro's guerrillas instead.
- The 1954 book A Sergeant Named Batista was written by his friend and speechwriter Edmund Chester.
- He's the last boss in the original version of the video game Guerrilla War.
- The Simpsons: In "The Trouble With Trillions", Homer and Burns flee to Cuba and the latter is shocked to learn from a cab driver that Batista is no longer in power. Burns then demands to be taken to "whoever is in charge".