Fidel Castro was a Cuban politician, dictator and revolutionary who governed the Republic of Cuba as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as President from 1976 to 2008. Politically a Marxist–Leninist and Cuban nationalist, he also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from 1961 until 2011.
Under his administration Cuba became a one-party socialist state, industry and business were nationalized, and state socialist reforms implemented throughout society.
Let’s see some facts about him!
1. Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born August 13, 1926 in Cuba.
2. Castro was born out of wedlock at his father’s farm on August 13, 1926. His father, Ángel Castro y Argiz, was a migrant to Cuba from Galicia, Northwest Spain.
3. He had become financially successful by growing sugar cane at Las Manacas farm in Birán, Oriente Province, and after the collapse of his first marriage, he took his household servant, Lina Ruz González – also of Spanish origin, as his mistress and later on second wife.
4. Together they had seven children, among them Fidel.
5. Aged six, Castro was sent to live with his teacher in Santiago de Cuba, before being baptized into the Roman Catholic Church at the age of eight.
6. Being baptized enabled Castro to attend the La Salle boarding school in Santiago, where he regularly misbehaved, so he was sent to the privately funded, Jesuit-run Dolores School in Santiago.
7. In 1945 he transferred to the more prestigious Jesuit-run El Colegio de Belén in Havana.
8. Although Castro took an interest in history, geography and debating at Belén, he did not excel academically, instead devoting much of his time to playing sport.
9. In 1945, Castro began studying law at the University of Havana.
10. Admitting he was “politically illiterate”, he became embroiled in student activism, and the violent gangsterismo culture within the university.
11. Passionate about anti-imperialism and opposing U.S. intervention in the Caribbean, he unsuccessfully campaigned for the presidency of the Federation of University Students on a platform of “honesty, decency and justice”.
12. Castro became critical of the corruption and violence of President Ramón Grau’s government, delivering a public speech on the subject in November 1946 that received coverage on the front page of several newspapers.
13. In 1947, Castro joined the Party of the Cuban People (Partido Ortodoxo), founded by veteran politician Eduardo Chibás.
14. A charismatic figure, Chibás advocated social justice, honest government, and political freedom, while his party exposed corruption and demanded reform. Though Chibás lost the election, Castro remained committed to working on his behalf.
15. Student violence escalated after Grau employed gang leaders as police officers, and Castro soon received a death threat urging him to leave the university, refusing, he began carrying a gun and surrounding himself with armed friends.
17. In later years anti-Castro dissidents accused him of committing gang-related assassinations at the time, but these remain unproven.
18. After participating in rebellions against right-wing governments in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, he planned the overthrow of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, launching a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953.
19. After a year’s imprisonment, he traveled to Mexico where he formed a revolutionary group, the 26th of July Movement, with his brother Raúl Castro and Che Guevara.
20. Returning to Cuba, Castro took a key role in the Cuban Revolution by leading the Movement in a guerrilla war against Batista’s forces from the Sierra Maestra. After Batista’s overthrow in 1959, Castro assumed military and political power as Cuba’s Prime Minister.
21. The United States opposed Castro’s government, and unsuccessfully attempted to remove him by assassination, economic blockade, and counter-revolution, including the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961.
22. Countering these threats, Castro formed an alliance with the Soviets. In response to U.S. nuclear missiles in Turkey, and perceived U.S. threats against Cuba, Castro allowed the Soviet Union to placed nuclear weapons on Cuba sparking the Cuban Missile Crisis—a defining incident of the Cold War—in 1962.
23. Adopting a Marxist-Leninist model of development, Castro converted Cuba into a one-party socialist state under Communist Party rule, the first in the Western Hemisphere.
24. Reforms introducing central economic planning and expanding healthcare and education were accompanied by state control of the press and the suppression of internal dissent.
25. Abroad, Castro supported anti-imperialist revolutionary groups, backing the establishment of Marxist governments in Chile, Nicaragua, and Grenada, and sending troops to aid allies in the Yom Kippur War, Ogaden War, and Angolan Civil War.
26. These actions, coupled with Castro’s leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1979–83 and Cuba’s medical internationalism, increased Cuba’s profile on the world stage and earned its leader great respect in the developing world.
27. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Castro led Cuba into its “Special Period” and embraced environmentalist and anti-globalization ideas. In the 2000s he forged alliances in the Latin American “pink tide”—namely with Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela—and signed Cuba to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas.
28. In 2006 he transferred his responsibilities to Vice-President Raúl Castro, who formally assumed the presidency in 2008.
29. Castro was decorated with various international awards, and was lauded as a champion of socialism, anti-imperialism, and humanitarianism, whose revolutionary regime secured Cuba’s independence from American imperialism.
30. In Latin America, Castro was inspirational for leaders like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales and, in Africa, he was viewed as an inspiration by leaders like Nelson Mandela.
31. He was also regarded highly in Asia; the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Castro as “one of the greatest men of our times”.
32. Conversely, critics in the United States alleged that he was a dictator whose administration oversaw human-rights abuses in Cuba.
33. Through his actions and his writings, he significantly influenced the politics of various individuals and groups across the world.
34. In a February 2008 letter, Castro announced that he would not accept the positions of President of the Council of State and Commander in Chief at that month’s National Assembly meetings, remarking, “It would betray my conscience to take up a responsibility that requires mobility and total devotion, that I am not in a physical condition to offer”.
35. On February 24, 2008, the National Assembly of People’s Power unanimously voted Raúl as president.
36. Describing his brother as “not substitutable”, Raúl proposed that Fidel continue to be consulted on matters of great importance, a motion unanimously approved by the 597 National Assembly members.
37. Following his retirement, Castro’s health deteriorated; international press speculated that he had diverticulitis, but Cuba’s government refused to corroborate this.
38. Cuban state television announced just after midnight on the morning of Saturday, November 26, 2016, that Castro had died in Havana.
39. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.
40. His brother and President Raúl Castro confirmed the news in a brief speech: “The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution died at 22:29 this evening.”
41. It was announced that Castro will be cremated on November 26, 2016.
42. Upon hearing the news, public celebrations began immediately in the US by exiled Cubans and Cuban-Americans.
43. He held onto power for a long time, making him the world’s third longest serving head of state, after Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and the King of Thailand.
44. He had utlasted nine US presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, George H W Bush, Clinton). He officially stepped down in 2008, one year before George W Bush left power. However, illness had forced him to relinquish power in 2006.
45. A man of many words, he made the Guinness record book for the longest timed speech at the UN, clocking 4 hours and 29 minutes on September 26, 1960.
46. He claims he survived 634 assassination attempts, chiefly masterminded by the CIA including poison pills, a toxic cigar and chemically tainted diving suit.
47. Many iconic photos of Castro show him puffing on a cigar but he gave up the habit in 1985 saying “The best thing you can do with this box of cigars is give them to your enemy.”