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Fidel Castro Dies Age 90

Fidel Castro pictured in 1979. (AP)

Fidel Castro pictured in 1979. (AP)

MIAMI (AP) — Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule of Cuba, 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. Friday. He ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: "Toward victory, always!"

Castro's reign over the island-nation 90 milesfrom 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.

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 monthlong silence. Obama made a historic visit to Havana in March 2016.

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

"Fidel? Fidel?" he said, slapping his head 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."

But the news cheered the community of Cuban exiles in Florida who had fled Castro's government. Thousands gathered in the streets in Miami's Little Havana to cheer and wave Cuban flags.

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 defence into a manifesto that he smuggled out of jail, famously declaring, "History will absolve me."

Freed under a pardon, Castro fled to Mexico and organised 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 recognise 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 defence 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."

Cuba's government announced that Castro's ashes would be interred on Dec. 4 in the eastern city of Santiago that was a birthplace of his revolution. That will follow more than a week of honours, including a nearly nationwide caravan retracing, in reverse, his tour from Santiago to Havana with the triumph of the revolution in 1959.

Comments

Tarzan 2 years, 4 months ago

Poor Fred. His man Castro dead.

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ohdrap4 2 years, 4 months ago

nah, he will just turn to his other mentor, Mugabe.

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sheeprunner12 2 years, 4 months ago

Most of the world respected Fidel Castro for what he did to lift up the average Cuban person - never mind what the American propagandists say ...... as long as Cuba was an American colony with puppet leaders, the American government was happy ........ we need a political leader who will put Bahamians first (like Castro did) ...... may he rest in his atheist world

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sheeprunner12 2 years, 4 months ago

K4C ...... Sadly, most of us are brainwashed by NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and FOX .................... ask the average black Cuban what life was like for them before 1959 ........ Why are most Cuban Americans of a lighter hue??? ..... hmmmmmmm

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Clamshell 2 years, 4 months ago

In 60 years of rule the Castro brothers never appointed a single black person to a key government post. Not one. The Americans, meanwhile, elected a black man president. That's not brainwashing, that is simple fact.

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DEDDIE 2 years, 4 months ago

Say what you want but Fidel was a hero to the average Cuban. His hand print is all over Latin America and many leaders drew inspiration from his courage. Even Nelson Mandela spoke highly of him. What the average Westerner is not aware off is that Cuba aided Angola in the 70's and 80's when Apartheid South Africa send troops to fight against Angola. Cuba send 25,000 men to fight and they were successful against the American backed South African troops. Read and don't simply buy into the CIA propaganda. I stop buying into it when they try to convince the world that an ex-Catholic priest turn president of Haiti (Aristide) was a drug dealer.

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BaronInvest 2 years, 4 months ago

Cuba has a much better healthcare system and more educated doctors than the Bahamas.

Doctors from Cuba are also very welcome/accepted in European hospitals, you will find many for example in Spain. Healthcare is also free in Cuba - that country is years ahead of the Bahamas, better educated people, better healthcare, better infrastructure, less crooked politicians.

And as an investor I rather put my money into projects in Cuba than the Bahamas because in Cuba the people actually welcome your investment - at least you don't have any foreign ministers saying 'bring money, shut up'

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avidreader 2 years, 4 months ago

The comment about no black person being in a high position in Cuba is incorrect. The late Juan Almeida fought with the Castro brothers in the late 1950s and rose to a high position in the ruling junta. Some books discussing the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 are now saying that Juan Almeida was planning to assist the U.S. in overthrowing the Castro brothers on December 1, 1963. Whether that claim is true or not the fact is that the Castro brothers remained in power and Juan Almeida is now gone. During my visits to Cuba in the 1990s I was told that racial problems still exist, a claim that somewhat surprised me at the time. The Castro brothers accomplished what very few people have been able to accomplish: they took over and completely dominated an entire country for almost 60 years. Once Raul Castro has departed the scene we shall see what the future holds but many Bahamians seem not to be aware that before Castro deposed Fulgencio Batista in January of 1959 Cuba was the premier tourist destination in the Caribbean and if they reclaim that position in the future it will be at the expense of many other competing destinations.

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Clamshell 2 years, 4 months ago

Juan Almeida, while dark-skinned, was not black. His ancestors were dark-skinned Spaniards. If you look at photos of him, particularly later in life, it's apparent that his lineage is not African or Afro-Caribbean.

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SP 2 years, 4 months ago

.................... Castro Had Many Failings, But He Educated His People! .....................

What has 43 years of "freedom" done for the average Bahamian?

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TalRussell 2 years, 4 months ago

Comrade Fidel was not the US's cup of tea but neither did they surround Cuba with US war ships to prevent Canada and a whole other host of countries from conducting trade with the Castro brothers.

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Tarzan 2 years, 4 months ago

What fairy-tale land do you live in Tal? Seriously, war ships to prevent trade? The only naval blockade of Cuba imposed by the U.S. was to prevent the Soviet installation of purely offensive nuclear weapons systems on the island. That is hardly "trade". The Castro brothers actively exported violent revolution to many countries in Latin America. The resultant pain and dislocation is still being imposed. I guess that's OK with you, but the people of Venezuela, Columbia, Chile, and Nicaragua, might strongly disagree.

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truetruebahamian 2 years, 4 months ago

Clamshell, - who really cares? I for one do not care in the slightest!

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ashley14 2 years, 4 months ago

A bunch of sick analogies of his reign. If you like being put in front of firing squad for saying something wrong or nothing at all. Then this is the place for you. Cuban's sneak into the US on man made rafts with their children to escape his reign. His brother is still in charge. I wouldn't expect much change. Trump is going to request change to keep the agreement with Obama open.

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avidreader 2 years, 4 months ago

It always amuses me when armchair revolutionaries express support for totalitarian dictatorships like that established in Cuba by Fidel Castro in January of 1959. From a distance it might appear attractive to some people but up close those accustomed to living in less oppressive environments might find it disconcerting to have a jeep full of armed soldiers stop in front of your house or business only to inform you that what you thought was your property now belongs to the state or to the people. Of what use is an advanced educational system if there are very few opportunities for social advancement in the larger society? How many Bahamians wish to work for around $20 a month? The suffering of others always seems less offensive when seen from a safe distance.

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