Cuban President Raul Castro announces death on state media
After years of false rumours about his death, Fidel Castro, the ailing former leader of Cuba, has died at the age of 90.
Cuban President Raul Castro announced the death of his brother on Cuban state media.
Castro was one of the most divisive figures of modern history. To some, he was a revolutionary icon defending a socialist ideal against the encroachment of capitalism and imperialism. To others, he was a totalitarian dictator who ran a repressive government that quashed individual rights and carried out political executions.
Castro’s system of one-man and one-party rule kept him in power for 49 years, the longest of any head of government in the world. For most of that time, he was a thorn in the side of the U.S., which carried out several failed assassination attempts against him, as well as the infamous botched Bay of Pigs invasion.
The U.S. also put in place tough economic and travel sanctions against Cuba, barring U.S. citizens from travelling to or doing business with the country. The sanctions have remained in place for decades, but in December 2014 U.S. President Barack Obama announced his government is taking steps to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba.
The revolutionary as a young man
Castro was born on Aug. 13, 1926, in what was then Oriente province in the eastern part of the island of Cuba.
The son of a sugar cane farmer, Castro attended Roman Catholic schools and established an early reputation as a gifted athlete.
He studied law at the University of Havana, where he became actively engaged in politics. At the age of 21, he joined a group of Cubans and exiles from the Dominican Republic intent on overthrowing the Dominican dictator Gen. Ralael Leonidas Trujillo Molina.
After completing his degree and becoming a lawyer, Castro joined the Cuban People’s Party, a reformist movement.
Castro was only 27 when on July 26, 1953, he launched an attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba, then under the control of Gen. Fulgencio Batista, who had seized power in Cuba in a military coup a year earlier. The attack failed, with Castro and most of his fighters captured or killed, but the date went on to become Cuba’s most important holiday.
Castro was arrested and eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison but was pardoned after only two years. He went into exile in Mexico, where he assembled a group of revolutionaries dubbed the 26th of July Movement. A year later, in 1956, with the help of future rebel icon Ernesto (Che) Guevara and other opponents of the Batista regime, Castro returned to Cuba.
In January 1959, with a mere 800 guerrilla fighters, Castro and his troops managed to defeat Batista’s professional army of 30,000 soldiers, forcing Batista to flee Havana under the cover of night.