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Nov 26 2016
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REPORT: Cuba's revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, dies aged 90

publishing date: 26/11/2016 06:30:00
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Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States and for five decades defied US efforts to topple him, died on Friday. He was 90.

 

A towering figure of the second half of the 20th Century, Castro stuck to his ideology beyond the collapse of Soviet communism and remained widely respected in parts of the world that had struggled against colonial rule.

 

He had been in poor health since an intestinal ailment nearly killed him in 2006. He formally ceded power to his younger brother Raul Castro two years later.

 

Wearing a green military uniform, a somber Raul Castro, 85,  appeared on state television on Friday night to announce his brother's death.

 

"At 10.29 at night, the chief commander of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, died," he said, without giving a cause of death.

 

Raul Castro, who always glorified his older brother, has nevertheless changed Cuba since taking over by introducing market-style economic reforms and agreeing with the United States in December 2014 to re-establish diplomatic ties and end decades of hostility.

 

It remains unclear if Trump will continue efforts to normalize relations with Cuba or fulfill a campaign promise to close the US embassy in Havana once again.

 

Fidel Castro himself offered only lukewarm support for the 2014 deal with Washington, raising questions about whether he approved of ending hostilities with his longtime enemy. Some analysts believed his mere presence kept Raul from moving further and faster, while others saw him as either quietly supportive or increasingly irrelevant.

 

 
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Born on August 13, 1926, in Biran in eastern Cuba, Castro was the son of a Spanish immigrant who became a wealthy landowner.

 

Angry at social conditions and Batista's dictatorship, Castro launched his revolution on July 26, 1953, with a failed assault on the Moncada barracks in the eastern city of Santiago.

 

"History will absolve me," he declared during his trial for the attack.

 

He was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released in 1955 after a pardon that would come back to haunt Batista.

 

Castro went into exile in Mexico and prepared a small rebel army to fight Batista. It included Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who became his comrade-in-arms.

 

In December 1956, Castro and a rag-tag band of 81 followers sailed to Cuba aboard a badly overloaded yacht called "Granma".

 

Only 12, including him, his brother and Guevara, escaped a government ambush when they landed in eastern Cuba.

 

Taking refuge in the rugged Sierra Maestra Mountains, they built a guerrilla force of several thousand fighters who, along with urban rebel groups, defeated Batista's military in just over two years.

 
 
Early in his rule, at the height of the Cold War, Castro allied Cuba to the Soviet Union, which protected the Caribbean island and was its principal benefactor for three decades.

 

The alliance brought in $4 billion worth of aid annually, including everything from oil to guns, but also provoked the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when the United States discovered Soviet missiles on the island.

 

Convinced that the United States was about to invade Cuba, Castro urged the Soviets to launch a nuclear attack.

 

Cooler heads prevailed. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and US President John F. Kennedy agreed the Soviets would withdraw the missiles in return for a US promise never to invade Cuba. The United States also secretly agreed to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey.

 
 
The bearded Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and ruled Cuba for 49 years with a mix of charisma and iron will, creating a one-party state and becoming a central figure in the Cold War.

 

He was demonized by the United States and its allies but admired by many leftists around the world, especially socialist revolutionaries in Latin America and Africa.

 

Transforming Cuba from a playground for rich Americans into a symbol of resistance to Washington, Castro crossed swords with 10 US presidents while in power, and outlasted nine of them.

 

He fended off a CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 as well as countless assassination attempts.

 

His alliance with Moscow helped trigger the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a 13-day showdown with the United States that brought the world the closest it has been to nuclear war.

 

Wearing green military fatigues and chomping on cigars for many of his years in power, Castro was famous for long, fist-pounding speeches filled with blistering rhetoric, often aimed at the United States.

 

At home, he swept away capitalism and won support for bringing schools and hospitals to the poor. But he also created legions of enemies and critics, concentrated among the exiles in Miami who fled his rule and saw him as a ruthless tyrant.

 

In his final years, Fidel Castro no longer held leadership posts. He wrote newspaper commentaries on world affairs and occasionally met foreign leaders but he lived in semi-seclusion.

 

Still, the passing of the man known to most Cubans as "El Comandante" -- the commander -- or simply "Fidel" leaves a huge void in the country he dominated for so long. It also underlines the generational change in Cuba's communist leadership.

 

A Jesuit-educated lawyer, Fidel Castro led the revolution that ousted US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista on Jan 1, 1959. Aged 32, he quickly took control of Cuba and sought to transform it into an egalitarian society.

 

His government improved the living conditions of the very poor, achieved health and literacy levels on a par with rich countries and rid Cuba of a powerful Mafia presence.

 

But he also tolerated little dissent, jailed opponents, seized private businesses and monopolized the media.

 

Castro's opponents labeled him a dictator and hundreds of thousands fled the island.

 

Castro claimed he survived or evaded hundreds of assassination attempts, including some conjured up by the CIA.

 

In 1962, the United States imposed a damaging trade embargo that Castro blamed for most of Cuba's ills, using it to his advantage to rally patriotic fury.

 

Over the years, he expanded his influence by sending Cuban troops into far-away wars, including 350,000 to fight in Africa. They provided critical support to a left-wing government in Angola and contributed to the independence of Namibia in a war that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

 

He also won friends by sending tens of thousands of Cuban doctors abroad to treat the poor and bringing young people from developing countries to train them as physicians.

 

 

 
REUTERS
 
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