Fidel Castro - Profile
Fidel Castro speaking in Havana, 1978.Wiki Commons/Marcelo Montecino

Fidel Castro, the iconic revolutionary leader of Cuba, who was the President of Cuba for over 30 years, has passed away at the age of 90. He was the leading light of the Cuban revolution and modelled his country on communist ideology.

This son of a Spanish immigrant later became the figure who stood up against US and its policies in the region and defending his country from a CIA-sponsored invasion. He had however transferred his president-ship to his brother, Raul Castro following ill health and old age.

Castro was also a leading figure in the Non-Aligned Movement, though he sided with the Soviet Union. 

Castro was also called "El Commandante" or the Commander,  was mostly seen in his green green military fatigues. He was known to give long speeches and ended his TV announcements with "Toward victory, always!"

Early years

Castro was born as Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz in Biran on August 13, 1926 to wealthy farmer and Spanish immigrant.

Baptised as Roman Catholic, he attended Jesuits run schools in Santiago and later in Havana. Castro excelled in sports than in academics.

Castro's political activism started when he began studying law at University of Havana. This is where he became passionate about the increasing US intervention in the Caribbean and was vocal about US imperialism.

A rebel

He became a member of a reformist Cuban People's Party (Partido Ortodoxo) in 1947. He was a candidate for a seat in the House of Representatives, but the elections were cancelled after General Fulgencio Batista overthrew the government.

By 1947, he started joining violent struggles, joining the abortive attempt by Dominican exiles and Cubans to invade the Dominican Republic and overthrow Gen. Rafael Trujillo, a US ally. In 1948, he also took part in the urban riots in Bogota, Colombia.

Following his graduation in 1950, he started practising law and at the same time became increasingly involved in protests and became a popular figure in anti-government protests.

"Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me," Castro said at his trial for attack that launched Cuban Revolution in 1953.

When all the legal means to defeat Batista failed, Castro took to armed struggle, leading 160 men in a suicidal attack on the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba in 1953. But he was arrested and many were killed. He was later sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. He was later given political amnesty in 1955 and headed to Mexico. In Mexico he campaigned against Batista regime, organising Cuban exiles into a revolutionary group called the 26th of July Movement.

Castro became interested in Marxist thoughts and read works of Marx, Lenin, and Marti. He also read books by Freud, Kant, Shakespeare, Munthe, Maugham and Dostoyevsky and analysed them within a Marxist framework, according to Fidel: A Biography of Fidel Castro by Peter Bourne.

Armed struggle – Revolution

Castro led an armed expedition in 1956, via yacht Granma from the eastern coast of Cuba with 81 men. Apart from Fidel and his brother Raul, Ernesto Che Guevara and nine others rest of them died. But they soon retreated to the mountain range of Sierra Maestra, where they started to wage guerrilla warfare against the forces of Batista.

Castro won a series of victories that rendered Batista's forces ineffective without a proper leader. Castor gained more members in his force after volunteers from across the island came in support of him.

In 1959, Batista fled the country with money being warned by General Cantillo. Castro was furious and ordered the arrest of Cantillo. By January 2, Cienfuegos and Guevara led their columns into Havana on January 2. Castro entered Santiago and gave a speech. He later moved to Havana, only to be greeted by cheering crowds.

He became the commander in chief of the armed forces in Cuba's new provisional government. The government had Manuel Urrutia, a moderate liberal, as its president. In February 1959, Castro became the Prime Minister of Cuba.

Castro started pursuing radical policies once he became established. He nationalised private commerce and industry, instituted land reforms and acquired businesses and agricultural estates belonging to Americans. He also nationalised health care and build rural health centres and urban polyclinics, which offered free medical aid.

These measures by Castro, alienated US. He further infuriated Washington when he signed a trade agreement with Soviet Union in 1960. By 1961, US broke its diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Bay of Pigs

The US, in April 1961 started to equip Cuban exiles with weapons and began to send them to Cuba to overthrow his government. The US government supported a CIA plan which resulted in the famous Bay of Pigs Invasion. The CIA-aided 1,400-strong army, was defeated and rest were captured. This victory for Castro sent a powerful message to not only Latin America but also to rest of the world.

He exchanged over 1000 captured soldiers with medicine and food valued at U.S. $25 million.

Cuba-Soviet Union friendship

Though Soviet Union was hesitant with Castro's embrace of Socialism, both countries deepened its relationship. Castro was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize.

Soviet Union offered economic and military aid.

Castro called upon Latin American to rise up to revolution and this lead US to expel Cuba from Organisation of American States.

Cuban Missile Crisis

In 1962, the world moved closer to a nuclear war between two Cold War rivals when Soviet Union secretly stationed its ballistic missiles in Cuba. The missiles could deliver nuclear warheads to US cities. This crisis is famously called the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The US under the JF Kennedy's presidency imposed quarantine around the Island. Later Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for a US commitment not to invade Cuba. USSR also asked US to remove nuclear-armed missiles stationed in Turkey.

Economic uncertainty and stagnation

The Cuban economy failed to show any growth after several of Cuba's upper and middle class citizens immigrated to US after feeling betrayed by Castro's policy. Castro extended the country's social services to all classes of society on an equal basis.

Educational and health services were available free of charge and Castro guaranteed employment to all.

Castro, however was not an apt manager of economic affairs. Moreover the US embargo had hurt industries and agriculture. He had to rely on favourable Soviet trade policies to maintain its modest standard of living.

In 1976, he became the President of the country after the new constitution created a National Assembly.

Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and its Presidency

He also sent Cuban troops to help in revolutions in other countries. Cuban forces fought in the Angolan civil war from 1975 to 1989. They also assisted Ethiopia in repelling an invasion by Somalia.

He also emerged as the leader of the less-developed world and the Non-Aligned countries. He became the president of NAM in 1979.

Fall of USSR and opening up

"We have to stick to the facts and, simply put, the socialist camp has collapsed," Castro said in 1991.

By 1980s, Cuba's economy was struggling following fall in sugar market price. He also released a number of immigrants (1,25,000) to US, some of whom were criminals.

By the late 1980s, he began to take hard line position as eastern European countries began to slip out of Soviet control. He was surprised by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which meant end of generous Soviet subsidies to Cuba, which lead to economic decline and shortages of consumer goods. Cuba began to allow some economic liberalisation and free-market activities.

In the mid 1990s, there were anti government protests, which were unknown phenomenon for past 35 years. Restrictions were also lifted for those who wanted to leave the country.

Cuba for the first time allowed the Pope to visit Cuba in 1998. Castro started to campaign against global warming and the waste of natural resources. He accused US of being the world's foremost polluter. By 2016, Cuba was the only country in the world that met United Nations Development Programme's definition of sustainable development.

Association with Chavez

When Venezuela elected a socialist and anti-imperialist Hugo Chavez as its president in 1999, they developed a close friendship. Chavez singed agreement where Cuba provided medics in return for oil. This helped give a boost to Cuban economy. He forged a socialist initiative to promote regional commerce.

Following the 11 September 2001 attack on US soil, he expressed solidarity with the US and offered assistance for landing diverted US planes.

Castro was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for his work on behalf of developing nations.

Stepping down

"I have a heart of steel,"  Castor said in 1972, in response to media reports on his alleged diagnosis of a heart condition.

Following a surgery, Castro delegated his duties to Raul on 2006. In 2008, the National Assembly of People's Power unanimously voted Raul as president.

Following Castro's recovery, the then US president George W. Bush said, "One day the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away". To this, Castro ironically replied, "Now I understand why I survived Bush's plans and the plans of other presidents who ordered my assassination: the good Lord protected me."

Retirement

By 2008, Castro retires but continued to interact with the Cuban people, published an opinion column titled "Reflections" in Granma. Castro lived in relative seclusion and only occasionally appeared to meet dignitaries.

He remarked to a reporter from the United States that "the Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore." Though this was read as communism's failure, it was seen by analysts as offering support for the economic reforms introduced by Raul.

When US President Barack Obama made his historic visit to Cuba, Castro did not meet up but instead castigated him for not acknowledging the accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution, including its efforts to eradicate racism, Britannica site noted.

He made a public appearance in April and addressed the Communist Party, where he said he would be dying soon and asked his party member to work to fulfil his vision for Cuba.

Last month he met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and previously he had met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

"I am nearing 90. I will soon pass away like everyone else. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of Cuban communists are an evidence that, in case if we work with pathos and dignity, we can produce material and cultural values people need,"  Castro said in a 2016 speech at a congress of the Cuban Communist Party.

Death

Raul Castro, the current president of Cuba, announced the death of Fidel Castro, who was aged 90 on state television early on Saturday.

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