Cuban leader Fidel Castro dies aged 90


Cuban leader Fidel Castro
Cuban leader Fidel Castro
Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90.

Castro’s reign over the island-nation 90 miles from Florida was marked by the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday on state television.

Castro overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, exile in Mexico and a disastrous start to his rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana in January 1959 to become, at age 32, the youngest leader in Latin America. For decades, he served as an inspiration and source of support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa.

His commitment to socialism was unwavering, though his power finally began to fade in mid-2006 when a gastrointestinal ailment forced him to hand over the presidency to Raul in 2008, provisionally at first and then permanently. His defiant image lingered long after he gave up his trademark Cohiba cigars for health reasons and his tall frame grew stooped.

“Socialism or death” remained Castro’s rallying cry even as Western-style democracy swept the globe and other communist regimes in China and Vietnam embraced capitalism, leaving this island of 11 million people an economically crippled Marxist curiosity.

He survived long enough to see Raul Castro negotiate an opening with U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 17, 2014, when Washington and Havana announced they would move to restore diplomatic ties for the first time since they were severed in 1961. He cautiously blessed the historic deal with his lifelong enemy in a letter published after a month-long silence.

“History will absolve me”

Fidel Castro Ruz was born Aug. 13, 1926, in eastern Cuba’s sugar country, where his Spanish immigrant father worked first recruiting labor for U.S. sugar companies and later built up a prosperous plantation of his own.

Castro attended Jesuit schools, then the University of Havana, where he received law and social science degrees. His life as a rebel began in 1953 with a reckless attack on the Moncada military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. Most of his comrades were killed and Fidel and his brother Raul went to prison.

Fidel turned his trial defense into a manifesto that he smuggled out of jail, famously declaring, “History will absolve me.”

Freed under a pardon, Castro fled to Mexico and organized a rebel band that returned in 1956, sailing across the Gulf of Mexico to Cuba on a yacht named Granma. After losing most of his group in a bungled landing, he rallied support in Cuba’s eastern Sierra Maestra mountains.

Three years later, tens of thousands spilled into the streets of Havana to celebrate Batista’s downfall and catch a glimpse of Castro as his rebel caravan arrived in the capital on Jan. 8, 1959.

Radical economic reforms

The U.S. was among the first to formally recognize his government, cautiously trusting Castro’s early assurances he merely wanted to restore democracy, not install socialism.

Within months, Castro was imposing radical economic reforms. Members of the old government went before summary courts, and at least 582 were shot by firing squads over two years. Independent newspapers were closed and in the early years, homosexuals were herded into camps for “re-education.”

In 1964, Castro acknowledged holding 15,000 political prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled, including Castro’s daughter Alina Fernandez Revuelta and his younger sister Juana.

Still, the revolution thrilled millions in Cuba and across Latin America who saw it as an example of how the seemingly arrogant Yankees could be defied. And many on the island were happy to see the seizure of property of the landed class, the expulsion of American gangsters and the closure of their casinos.

Castro’s speeches, lasting up to six hours, became the soundtrack of Cuban life and his 269-minute speech to the U.N. General Assembly in 1960 set the world body’s record for length that still stood more than five decades later.

As Castro moved into the Soviet bloc, Washington began working to oust him, cutting U.S. purchases of sugar, the island’s economic mainstay. Castro, in turn, confiscated $1 billion in U.S. assets.

The American government imposed a trade embargo, banning virtually all U.S. exports to the island except for food and medicine, and it severed diplomatic ties on Jan. 3, 1961.

More than 600 assassination plots

On April 16 of that year, Castro declared his revolution to be socialist, and the next day, about 1,400 Cuban exiles stormed the beach at the Bay of Pigs on Cuba’s south coast. But the CIA-backed invasion failed.

The debacle forced the U.S. to give up on the idea of invading Cuba, but that didn’t stop Washington and Castro’s exiled enemies from trying to do him in. By Cuban count, he was the target of more than 630 assassination plots by militant Cuban exiles or the U.S. government.

The biggest crisis of the Cold War between Washington and Moscow exploded on Oct. 22, 1962, when President John F. Kennedy announced there were Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and imposed a naval blockade of the island. Humankind held its breath, and after a tense week of diplomacy, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev removed them. Never had the world felt so close to nuclear war.

Castro cobbled revolutionary groups together into the new Cuban Communist Party, with him as first secretary. Labor unions lost the right to strike. The Catholic Church and other religious institutions were harassed. Neighborhood “revolutionary defense committees” kept an eye on everyone.

Castro exported revolution to Latin American countries in the 1960s, and dispatched Cuban troops to Africa to fight Western-backed regimes in the 1970s. Over the decades, he sent Cuban doctors abroad to tend to the poor, and gave sanctuary to fugitive Black Panther leaders from the U.S.

But the collapse of the Soviet bloc ended billions in preferential trade and subsidies for Cuba, sending its economy into a tailspin. Castro briefly experimented with an opening to foreign capitalists and limited private enterprise.

Discreet private life

As the end of the Cold War eased global tensions, many Latin American and European countries re-established relations with Cuba. In January 1998, Pope John Paul II visited a nation that had been officially atheist until the early 1990s.

Aided by a tourism boom, the economy slowly recovered and Castro steadily reasserted government control, stifling much of the limited free enterprise tolerated during harder times.

As flamboyant as he was in public, Castro tried to lead a discreet private life. He and his first wife, Mirta Diaz Balart, had one son before divorcing in 1956. Then, for more than four decades, Castro had a relationship with Dalia Soto del Valle. They had five sons together and were said to have married quietly in 1980.

By the time Castro resigned 49 years after his triumphant arrival in Havana, he was the world’s longest ruling head of government, aside from monarchs.

In retirement, Castro voiced unwavering support as Raul slowly but deliberately enacted sweeping changes to the Marxist system he had built.

His longevity allowed the younger brother to consolidate control, perhaps lengthening the revolution well past both men’s lives. In February 2013, Raul announced that he would retire as president in 2018 and named newly minted Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel as his successor.

“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” Castro said at an April 2016 communist party congress where he made his most extensive public appearance in years. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof that on this planet, if one works with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need and that need to be fought for without ever giving up.”




22 responses to “Cuban leader Fidel Castro dies aged 90”

  1. 5thDrawer Avatar

    Classic Communism VS Socialism … Lived and experienced by the Cubans for perhaps far too long.
    Always interesting in it’s histories, of the little special moments where well-to-do power-seekers form their own concepts of ‘being there’. Perhaps Bin Laden should have tried to grab an island.:-))
    The number of bodies and minds eliminated, become simple footnotes to the history of ‘thoughts’, on the best ways to accomplish something ‘for the people’ …. seems the way of the world, in any case.
    One might note that the C.I.A. has generally not improved success rates very much since at least 1961.
    Just like Communists.
    Social Fairness of societies is still being worked on … slowly, slowly. Viva Fidel for the long ride, as a mystical figure, seemingly promoting the concepts. Venezuela coming soon, will not have folks lasting so long in it.

  2. Another Anglo-American puppet dies.

    1. LOL, Smith 3 decades later, but forgets the McCarthy Era. What a joke.

      1. Great to see you still have nothing to say.

        1. I see you forgot about the McCarthy era as well.

          1. I haven’t lived it to remember or forget about it but I know about it.

            Are you insinuating that the US gov. did not help bring Castro and Communism to Cuba because it was, on the surface, combatting that same Communism on US soil?

            Last time I checked, the US gov. was also combatting drugs and terror.

          2. Should have been born sooner. Then again a quick look into the 50’s and the over the edge desire to combat Communism renders Smith’s analysis into the round file.

          3. You were born sooner, yet you’re not any brighter.

            I don’t even think you realize how absurd you sound. Hatred against the Soviet Union and Communism was imposed on the Americans who swallowed it docilely – especially those like you. There was absolutely no “desire to combat Communism”. Mcarthy’s era was infamous for accusing and jailing anyone of being linked to Communist Parties (most of which were started and led by Jews) without evidence. The Soviet Union and Communism were instigated by the same oligarchic elite behind the USA. Another one of their Hegelian dialectic you fell for.

          4. And which ones were led by Jews?

          5. Hilarious to see you only interested in the Jewish part. Do you homework and find out, I am not here to educate you.

          6. You haven’t educated me, I just educated you.

          7. Reading your comments, yes, I can see that. (rhetorical)

          8. I beg to differ, mate. The only way to educate him is to perform a lobotomy.

          9. 5thDrawer Avatar

            Everyone loved Chaplin’s films … but he had to leave the country for the First Republic. 😉 I suppose one would need to assume McCarthy was a Nazi.

          10. The labeling of one as “Nazi” if that one is anti-Communism or as “Communists” if that one is anti-Nazism is hilarious. Both are made-up ideologies to create a division in the world. It all comes down together when that one realizes that both Communism and Nazism were instigated and pushed by the same elite to further their agenda.

    2. 5thDrawer Avatar

      Down the Anglicans again … they also go left, right, and centre. :-)))

      1. If the “anglo-american” terminology bothers you, banking elite or oligarchic elite might fit best. After all, Castro did oust Batista at the request of the bankers.

        Despite all the negative image portrayed about Batista, he crushed Marxist agitators in Cuba, established a Constitution for the Cuban people, was getting rid of the foreign grip in Cuba and was making the country strong economically.

        Castro was brought in with the help of the CIA – supposedly to fight evil – and ended up giving Cuba to the bankers: a nice military base in the south, the Moa Bay nickel mine went to the Rockefeller and he sent thousands of Communist soldiers to protect Gulf-Chevron’s oil interest in Angola.

        1. 5thDrawer Avatar

          Well, I didn’t think you had gone back to the time of Angles vs Celts, and all that.
          Figured it might be a reference the Pope used to the Reformation. ;-))

  3. PatienceTew Avatar

    Maybe now the ‘fuzzy-face’ of Iran will follow his example!??

  4. “History Will be the Judge: Fidel Castro, 1926-2016”

    Fidel Castro, Cuba’s leader of revolution, has died aged 90. Here is an extract from Tariq Ali‘s introduction to The Declarations of Havana, Verso’s collection of Castro’s speeches.

    1. That’s nice, now he’s dead and Cuba damn near died as well. Castro should have been condemned as a narcissistic moron.

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