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Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar was born in Banes, in the province of Oriente, Cuba, January 16, 1901, to Belisario Batista and Carmela Zaldívar, sugar plantation laborers. Of very humble origins, Batista worked from an early age. An avid reader, he attended public school and Colegio Los Amigos, an American Quaker school, but was primarily a self-educated man. He held a few jobs and in 1921 he joined the Cuban Army. By 1932, he was a military court stenographer with the rank of sergeant major.
The effects of the Great Depression, combined with discontent with President Machado's government, led to violent riots which caused Machado to leave the country in 1933. On September 4 of that year Batista led the so called “sergeant’s revolt”, taking control of the Army under a series of short lived governments. As "Jefe del Estado Mayor del Ejército" (Army Chief of Staff) for the next seven years, Batista increased the size and consolidated the power of the army and suppressed a number of uprisings.
In October of 1940, in the first elections after the inception of a new constitution, Batista was elected president. Succeeded by Ramón Grau San Martín, who won the 1944 elections, Batista left the country. In the 1948 elections in which Carlos Prío Socarrás was elected president Batista, still living in the United States, was elected senator for the province of Las Villas.
On March 10, 1952 Batista staged a military coup overthrowing the Prío presidency. His past democratic and pro-labor tendencies won him support from the financial sector and labor leaders. Among the opponents was Fidel Castro, who led an attack against the Moncada army installation in Santiago de Cuba in a failed attempt to overthrow Batista’s government on July 26, 1953. Castro was captured, brought to trial and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
A year later Batista was again elected president. During the following years, post War economic prosperity grew to unprecedented levels. But growing opposition escalated to social unrest and violence. Castro, who was in exile after being freed in the 1955 amnesty, returned to Cuba and after another failed attack retreated to the mountains to wage a guerrilla war. By 1958 the general situation of the country had become difficult, opposition forces had grown in size and won a number of victories, and some of Batista’s officials had deserted. On January 1, 1959, Batista resigned and flew to the Dominican Republic.
In August of the same year, Batista moved to Portugal where he resided until his death in Marbella, Spain, on August 6, 1973. During those years he wrote extensively and corresponded with prominent literary and political figures including both former allies and adversaries.