Batista was born in Banes, Cuba in 1901 and considered mulatto (mixed African and Spanish blood). He joined the army in 1921. Sergeant Batista led the 1933 "Sergeants' Revolt" which replaced the Provisional Government of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes , who had previously ousted Gerardo Machado. Ramon Grau was made president and Batista became the Army Chief of Staff and effectively controlled the presidency. Grau was president for just over 100 days before being replaced with Carlos Mendieta y Montefur (11 months), then Jose Barnet y Vinajeras (5 months), and then Miguel Gomez y Arias (7 months) before Federcio Laredo Bru managed to rule from December 1936 to October 1940.
In October, Batista was popularly elected as President of Cuba. In 1944, Batista was forbidden by law to seek re-election and was succeeded by Ramon Grau. Batista retired into voluntary exile in Florida, before returning in 1952.
Batista staged a military coup on March 10, 1952, overthrowing Carlos Prio Socarras (elected in 1948) and becoming dictator. This time he headed a notoriously corrupt and repressive government and rejected the constitution. It was on good terms with the United States government and the Mafia. A number of American corporations did very well in Cuba and the island became a major tourist destination. But the economic depressions of the 1950s increased opposition as native Cubans saw themselves as being marginalized in their own country by the incursion of American tourists and businesses.
Among the numerous opponents to Batista was Fidel Castro. Castro had attempted to challenge the coup judicially but his petition was refused. Castro was imprisoned after he led an inept and costly attack on the Moncada Barracks in July, 1953.
With the help of the Jesuits, Castro was released in a general amnesty in May 1955 and went into exile in Mexico and the United States where he plotted another coup attempt. Castro's return to Cuba as head of the 26th of July Movement was marked by another disastrous attack in December, 1956. Only Castro and eleven others survived to retreat into the mountains and from there wage a guerrilla war.
In May 1958, Batista launched a major assault against Castro and the other rebel groups (unaffiliated with Castro). Despite being outnumbered (his men numbered less than 100), Castro's forces scored a series of victories, aided by massive desertion amongst Batista's army. Against this backdrop of growing civil war, Batista, constitutionally prohibited from continuing as president, held an election in which his preferred candidate Carlos Rivero Aguero defeated Grau. On January 1, 1959 Batista and Rivero fled the country to the Dominican Republic, and Castro's forces took Havana.