Name at birth: Ruben Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar
Fulgencio Batista grabbed power twice in Cuba by military coup, and ruled the small nation from 1933 to 1944, then again from 1952 until he was overthrown in 1958. Batista began his career when he joined the army in 1921. He was an army stenographer and a popular sergeant when he led the 1933 "sergeant's revolt" that toppled Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, who had just toppled Cuba's president, Gerardo Machado. With support from the United States, Batista became the de facto leader of Cuba while puppet presidents held office, and in 1940 Batista himself was voted in as president. He got public services functioning and Cuba's economy prospered, thanks in large part to Batista's willingness to make Havana a playground for wealthy tourists. He lost the presidency in the election of 1944, but remained active in Cuban politics from his home in Daytona Beach, Florida. He returned to Cuba in 1952 and ran for president again. A few months before the election, it was clear Batista was going to lose the election, so he took power by force. In his second round as leader, he seemed to focus more on enriching himself and his friends than on the problems of Cubans. He cozied up to American gangsters, suppressed free speech and arrested, tortured and killed political opponents. While the U.S. continued to support Batista, revolutionaries Che Guevara and Fidel Castro were gaining support from the Cuban people. Batista was able to put down Castro's efforts in 1953, but he could not stop the revolutionary momentum, and his brutal tactics only helped the opposition. Abandoned by the U.S. in late 1958, Batista fled Cuba with his riches on New Year's Eve and lived the remainder of his life in exile.
Fulgencio Batista was especially close to Meyer Lansky, the “Mob’s Accountant” who helped make Las Vegas a gambling center for organized crime.