Cuba's Fidel Castro, who defied US for 50 years, dies at 90

In this Oct. 12, 1979 file photo, Cuban President, Fidel Castro, points during his lengthy speech before the United Nations General Assembly, in New York. Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro at age 90 on Cuban state media on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File)
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.

With a shaking voice, President Raul Castro said on state television that his older brother died at 10:29 p.m. on Nov 25. He ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: "Toward victory, always!"

Castro's reign over the island-nation 90 miles (145 kilometers) 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 10 years after ill health forced him to hand power over to Raul.

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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.

Carlos Rodriguez, 15, was sitting in Havana's Miramar neighborhood when he heard that Fidel Castro had died.

"Fidel? Fidel?" he said as he slapped his head with his hand in shock. "That's not what I was expecting. One always thought that he would last forever. It doesn't seem true."

"It's a tragedy," said 22-year-old nurse Dayan Montalvo. "We all grew up with him. I feel really hurt by the news that we just heard."

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.

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.

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.

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."

___

Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein reported this story in Havana and Peter Orsi reported from Mexico City. AP writer Anita Snow in Mexico City and AP news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Stanley Kopacz
11 months 3 weeks ago
One could say that state socialism failed there but it would be more accurate to say that it failed while under unrelenting economic attack by the world's largest economic empire which muddies the causality. It was no doubt a brutal, repressive regime but how brutal compared with the many dictatorships our government fostered in Central America with their death squads and torture. The continued embargo of little Cuba was always amusing considering how the free trade-tors supported the build up of China into a powerful global rival even after the slaughter in Tienenman Square.
L J
11 months 3 weeks ago
Clearly youve never been to Cuba. There is nothing little about it. Visit it sometime. Educate yourself of that which you know little
J Cosgrove
11 months 3 weeks ago
The interesting thing is what will people say about this man who hated others so much. He espoused an ideology that is responsible for killing more human beings than any other in history and maintained that ideology till the end while his people lived in repression as a result of his personal hate. Despite the evidence. Yes a man of hate!!!!
Tim O'Leary
11 months 3 weeks ago
Fidel seduced a lot of people in the West by his words of socialism to overlook his murdering and oppression. JFK has a lot to answer for in failing to support the freedom fighters at the Bay of Pigs. A successful invasion would not only have freed millions of people from half-a-century of impoverishment, but the whole world would not have been put at risk of annihilation by the Cuban missile crisis (and probably no Kennedy assassination given Oswald's ties there). My first in-depth read of what went on there was the book Against All Hope by Armando Valladares (a Cuban poet, diplomat, and human rights activist). Well worth a revisit. There is no reason Cuba couldn't have done reasonably well economically without American trade (there were plenty of nations willing to trade with Cuba) if it hadn't been for the abject failure of communistic socialism, which failed in every nation it was tried in, including East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Cambodia, Vietnam, North Korea, Russia, China, etc. etc. But, not only was it an abject failure on economic terms. It was even worse on the most basic human rights terms. Religious oppression, mass murders (surpassing 100 million) and mass imprisonments. Castro turned his nation into an island prison. This site has a lot of information worth contemplating before one tries to excuse this dictator. http://babalublog.com/fidel-castros-greatest-atrocities-and-crimes/fidel-castros-firing-squads-in-cuba/
Stanley Kopacz
11 months 3 weeks ago
That the incompetent invasion would fail and then be followed by the commitment of American troops by a panicked inexperienced president may have been the CIA plan all along and not the playbook they gave Kennedy. Presidents shouldn't be jerked around by staff. Cuba was not a democracy before Castro and, if the Bay of Pigs was successful, not afterwards. Cuba would probably had some murderous dictator, the kind we loved in Central America, and without the good health care.
Tim O'Leary
11 months 3 weeks ago
Kennedy's second best option would have been to cancel the invasion. He was just way too much out of his depth and chose the worst of all possible options - and drove the Cuban communists to become puppets of the Soviet Union. JFK's approval of the arrest & assassination of Ngô Đình Diệm, the president of South Vietnam, also drew the Americans into that terrible conflict. Some of the worst foreign policy decisions in US history, up until the Obama administration failures (almost everywhere). I fear more of these errors of bad judgment with Trump.
Vince Killoran
11 months 3 weeks ago
Cuba was a terrible place to live before Castro. Dictatorial rule, corruption, gross inequality. Let that be the starting point in any discussion of the nation's recent history.
Tim O'Leary
11 months 3 weeks ago
Vince - that sounds like you are trying to excuse the dictator. That it was bad before Castro in no way excuses him, no more than a harsh post-WWII Korea excuses the 3 Kim's of North Korea. Most despots arise in bad times. But, you know they are despots because they make the bad worse and institutionalize it (one-man, one-vote, one-time). Here are 3 things Castro did that haven't been mentioned here yet: he banned Christmas for 4 decades; over 10% of the nation fled his paradise (many drowning in the water, like the modern refugees from ISIS-held Syria); Russian documents reveal he argued for a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the USA.
Vince Killoran
11 months 3 weeks ago
Of course not. But there were many, many worse dictators that we supported who violated human rights. At least a few of our own foreign policy architects could be put in this group (e.g., Henry Kissinger). I would not like to see Cuba revert to what if was before the Cuban Revolution, or become a testing ground for free market enthusiasts.
Tim O'Leary
11 months 3 weeks ago
You say "of course not" but then you equate him with a Secretary of State, in a senate-appointed position for only a few years, who only had the authority to persuade the President, who never could even order a soldier to do anything, and who was never convicted of any illegality in the USA, with a known autocrat who forced his will on Cuba and many other nations (in Africa, etc.), who killed and imprisoned millions for over 50 years, who supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia,... - it is this moral equivalence that is breathtaking. You may not like the free market but a "testing ground for market enthusiasts" (like Miami) would be heaven compared to his gulags. I note no hoards of boat refugees ever left Miami for Cuba. And people call climate skeptics deniers???
Vince Killoran
11 months 3 weeks ago
Kissinger is responsible for more murder and mayhem than Castro.The fact that the US Senate confirmed him is inconsequential. If this is your criteria, then what about the various moves by democratic governments to indict Henry K.? He has restricted his travel for fear that he will be arrested. As for your overheated "gulag" rhetoric, the effects of fifty years of the US embargo did quite a bit of damage to Cubans' welfare. And, as far as Miami goes, have you ever spent time in some of the dangerous, poverty-ridden neighborhoods?
Tim O'Leary
11 months 3 weeks ago
Re the gulag, it's not my word, but- Armando Valladares', whose book title is "Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro's Gulag" (banned in Cuba, of course, but $10 on Kindle) - even Amnesty International agrees. But, it's not just about numbers (or abortion advocates would rank with the worst). It's about the choices and decisions in the circumstances - or else you'd have to rank FDR and Truman even worse for millions of WWII deaths, or Lincoln (who would have been arrested in the Confederate states) or Obama even (for drone deaths). I have no special love for Kissinger but to excuse Castro's crimes by the comparison is just that - an excuse. Been to Miami, even some poor areas, where I worried about my safety from locals, not the police. But, I didn't see anyone trying to stop people leaving the poorer districts of Miami, or indeed anybody even trying to leave. I doubt anyone but a political ideologue or rich tourist would want to trade any part of Miami for Havana. You can't say those in Cuba even have equality in their poverty, since the government fat cats have more of everything. Animal Farm all over again - in every single communist country.
Vince Killoran
11 months 3 weeks ago
Just to be clear: I am not defending Castor's Cuba. Nor should we defend any political regime that practices oppression. The good old USA has a pretty poor record in terms of human rights. We must be accurate about the Cuban government's record as well as our own. The folks down in Miami who railed against Castro over the decades--most are gone now--were allied with the pre-Castro regime. It was brutal, corrupt, and grossly unequal. Let's be certain we don't return to it.
Tim O'Leary
11 months 3 weeks ago
There you go again with the moral equivalence of the US with Communist regimes. The nature of communist regimes is that their victims are primarily their own people. The Cuban exiles/refugees I've met, or their children, were certainly not at all political. Their crime was they had property or were middle class - doctors, dentists, academics, devout Catholics, priests, nuns, shop-owners, small businesses, and anyone who opposed Communism. Millions had their property confiscated. You are not comparing like with like. How many American citizens in the last 50 years were killed or imprisoned for political reasons, or had their property taken away, or were deprived of the most basic legal rights. Batista certainly was terrible to his own people as well and I don't want Castro replaced by another dictator (like Raúl replaced Fidel - all in the family). I do not recall if people were not allowed to travel in and out of Cuba or if the Batista regime produced thousands of refugees arriving on US shores. I don't think he wanted nuclear bombs or banned all religion. Authoritarian regimes can be brutal, but totalitarian regimes are worse, as they want to control thought and beliefs, property and movement. Just listen or read what Fidel's sister said and did. She knew he took the path of evil. The most basic test of the level of oppression in a nation is whether people are trying to leave or get into a country. It correlates with most other freedoms. For over 100 years, the flow has been out of Communist nations like Cuba and into democracies (however flawed), like the USA.
Vince Killoran
11 months 3 weeks ago
I wasn't equating the two country's human rights records. How could we? The USA is a superpower with a vast reach across the globe. It has propped up corrupt, murderous regimes, exported weapons, and destabilized many governments. Cuba is a diminished regional power whose authoritarian state socialism accomplished some good (e.g., health care) while fending off American attempts to topple it, but engaged in human rights violations. The "most basic test" criteria you offer is an interesting one but a little simplistic since it doesn't account for a country's size, geographical location, etc. My students are surprised to learn that one-third of immigrants to the USA have returned to their country of origin or moved on to another country. We're just not that exceptional. In any case, I was delighted to hear on this morning's news that a significant number of Mexicans are bypassing the USA for Canada.
Tim O'Leary
11 months 3 weeks ago
Your sentence "It has propped up corrupt, murderous regimes, exported weapons, and destabilized many governments." describes Cuba, in addition to his attack on his own people. Before Castro, Cuba had better literacy and health care than most of Latin America. So, he just destroyed that less. A good Washington Post article from Carlos Eire on Castro https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/farewell-to-cubas-brutal-big-brother/2016/11/26/d369affe-0eeb-11e6-bfa1-4efa856caf2a_story.html?utm_term=.1a400a892365 2 quotes: "deceit was one of Fidel Castro’s greatest talents, and gullibility is one of the world’s greatest frailties...the bold lie became believable" "Many intellectuals, journalists and educated people in the First World fell for this myth, too — though they would have been among the first to be jailed or killed by Castro in his own realm — and their assumptions acquired an intensity similar to that of religious convictions." He ends with a list of 13 facts about Castro that succinctly describes his legacy, including risking the world with a nuclear holocaust. As to your "delighted to hear" that Mexicans are bypassing the USA for Canada, I'm sure Trumpites would retort that we're already winning!
Vince Killoran
11 months 3 weeks ago
Hey, I'm Canadian!
L J
11 months 3 weeks ago
Thousands have died at the hands of Castro's gullag and yet you make jokes My uncle was shot at a firing squad under Fidel's orders. My uncle, like most Cubans, initially backed Fidel until he declared himself a Communist. My uncle opposed Castro thereafter and was killed. His body was dropped off at our home in La Habana. My mother had raised him and we loved him dearly. And yet you praise an assassin from your comfortable, coddled home in Canada. You sir are an embarrassment As expected
Vince Killoran
11 months 3 weeks ago
I made no jokes, nor did I praise Castro. I stated that I am Canadian, not necessarily that I live in Canada currently. I mourn your uncle and all those who suffer such fates at the hands of governments, allied and unallied with the US government.
J Cosgrove
11 months 3 weeks ago
How in 1957 an obscure journalist and the New York Times created Fidel Castro and how it ties in with the current rage over fake news.
Castro Dead – Good Time to Talk About "Fake News" "Journalists" are writing about "fake news" as if "bull****" was something new.
http://bit.ly/2fXBgW0
J Cosgrove
11 months 3 weeks ago
One of the conventional wisdoms about Cuba was that it was a horrible place to live. There is an alternative take provided by he Wall Street Journal on Cuba in 1958:
The Cuba that Castro inherited was developing but relatively prosperous. It ranked third in Latin America in doctors and dentists and daily calorie consumption per capita. Its infant-mortality rate was the lowest in the region and the 13th lowest in the world. Cubans were among the most literate Latins and had a vibrant civic life with private professional, commercial, religious and charitable organizations. Castro destroyed all that. He ruined agriculture by imposing collective farms, making Cuba dependent first on the Soviets and later on oil from Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. In the past half century Cuba’s export growth has been less than Haiti’s, and now even doctors are scarce because so many are sent abroad to earn foreign currency. Hospitals lack sheets and aspirin. The average monthly income is $20 and government food rations are inadequate.
http://on.wsj.com/2fNItdw My guess is that were a substantial number of poor in 1958 as there was in most of the world and they were supportive of Castro and had hope for something better. But they were duped. It got worse not better. See this photograph of present day Havana http://bit.ly/2gtYCmL It also sounds like the health care meme is a myth. I have a good friend whose in-laws were from Cuba. She visited them and said hospitals were disasters as the hall ways were full of gurneys because they did not have the facilities to take care of the common person. Their care was primitive. Maybe union leaders should descend on Cuba to advocate for $15 per hour wages vs $20 per month.
L J
11 months 3 weeks ago
Cubans celebrate in both Cuba and off the island on the death of an assassin. Only cowards who live in coddled, safe nations defend muderous assassins like the Castro brothers That is the difference between a culture that values life versus a culture that justifies the killing of life to advance a politically expedient narrative
Tim O'Leary
11 months 2 weeks ago
A few more interesting notes on the left's favorite despot. 1. Pope St. John XXIII ("the Good") excommunicated Castro on Jan 3, 1962, the same year he convened VCII. 2. In a fitting metaphor, Fidel Castro's (Russian-made) hearse broke down on the way to the burial (of his ashes). http://townhall.com/tipsheet/christinerousselle/2016/12/04/ha-fidel-castros-funeral-vehicle-broke-down-midprocession-n2254870 3. Since 1980, 1/3rd of Cuban pregnancies have been terminated - so much for stellar healthcare. See http://www.wsj.com/articles/castro-and-human-dignity-1480886847 & https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/12/requiem-for-a-despot

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