The Cuban Revolution was a successful armed revolt by Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement, which overthrew the US-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista on 1 January 1959, after over five years of struggle. "Our revolution is endangering all American possessions in Latin America. We are telling these countries to make their own revolution." — Che Guevara, October 1962
Castro later travelled to the United States to explain his revolution. He said, "I know what the world thinks of us, we are Communists, and of course I have said very clearly that we are not Communists; very clearly."
Hundreds of suspected Batista-era agents, policemen and soldiers were put on public trial for human rights abuses and war crimes, including murder and torture. Most of those convicted in revolutionary tribunals of political crimes were executed by firing squad, and the rest received long prison sentences. One of the most notorious examples of revolutionary justice was the execution of over 70 captured Batista regime soldiers, directed by Raúl Castro after the capture of Santiago. For his part in Havana, Che Guevara was appointed supreme prosecutor in La Cabaña Fortress. This was part of a large-scale attempt by Fidel Castro to cleanse the security forces of Batista loyalists and potential opponents of the new revolutionary regime. Others were fortunate enough to be dismissed from the army and police without prosecution, and some high-ranking officials in the ancien régime were exiled as military attachés.
In 1961, after the US-backed Bay of Pigs Invasion, the new Cuban government nationalized all property held by religious organizations, including the dominant Roman Catholic Church. Hundreds of members of the church, including a bishop, were permanently expelled from the nation, with the new Cuban government being declared officially atheist. Faria describes how the education of children changed as Cuba officially became an atheist state: private schools were banned and the progressively socialist state assumed greater responsibility for children.
According to geographer and Cuban Comandante Antonio Núñez Jiménez, 75% of Cuba's best arable land was owned by foreign individuals or foreign (mostly U.S.) companies. One of the first policies of the newly formed Cuban government was eliminating illiteracy and implementing land reforms. Land reform efforts helped to raise living standards by subdividing larger holdings into cooperatives. Comandante Sori Marin, nominally in charge of land reform, objected and fled, but was eventually executed. Many other non-Marxist, anti-Batista rebel leaders were forced in to exile, purged in executions, or eliminated in failed uprisings such as that of the Beaton brothers.
Shortly after taking power, Castro also created a Revolutionary militia to expand his power base among the former rebels and the supportive population. Castro also initiated Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or CDRs in late September 1960. Government informants became rampant within the population. CDRs were tasked with keeping "vigilance against counter-revolutionary activity." Local CDRs were also tasked with keeping a detailed record of each neighborhood's inhabitants' spending habits, level of contact with foreigners, work and education history, and any "suspicious" behavior. One of the persecuted groups were homosexual men. The Cuban dissident and exile Reinaldo Arenas wrote about such persecution in his autobiography, "Antes Que Anochezca", the basis for the film Before Night Falls.
In February 1959, the Ministry for the Recovery of Misappropriated Assets (Ministerio de Recuperación de Bienes Malversados) was created. Cuba began expropriating land and private property under the auspices of the Agrarian Reform Law of 17 May 1959. Cuban lawyer Mario Lazo writes that farms of any size could be and were seized by the government. Land, businesses, and companies owned by upper- and middle-class Cubans were also nationalized, including the plantations owned by Fidel Castro's family. By the end of 1960, the revolutionary government had nationalized more than $25 billion worth of private property owned by Cubans. Cuba also nationalized all foreign-owned property, particularly American holdings, in the nation on 6 August 1960. The United States, in turn, responded by freezing all Cuban assets in the United States, severing diplomatic ties, and tightening the embargo on Cuba, which is still in place as of 2011. In response to the acts of the Eisenhower administration, Cuba was forced to turned to the Soviet Union for support.