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Dublin: 8°C Thursday 21 October 2021

Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90

The revolutionary leader shaped Cuba for more than 50 years.

CASTRO SMOKES CIGAR Source: AP/Press Association Images

FIDEL CASTRO, WHO led Cuba for almost 50 years, has died at the age of 90.

The news of his death was confirmed this morning by his brother, current president Raul Castro, on Cuban television.

“The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution died at 22:29 hours this evening,” the president said in his televised address.

Raul Castro, who took power after his older brother was hospitalised in 2006, said that the revolutionary leader’s remains will be cremated early today, “in compliance with his expressed will”.

Raul Castro made the announcement just after 5am Irish time (midnight Cuban time).

One of the leading world figures in the second half of the 20th century, Fidel Castro had outsized influence given the size of his small Caribbean island.

He was said to have survived countless US assassination attempts.

In one of his last public appearances, Castro had called on his successors to keep his ideas alive.

During his time, El Comandante, as he was known in Cuba, proved to be a divisive figure who exercised huge control over the Caribbean island.

He implemented major economic and social changes in Cuba, which remains one of the few socialist regimes left in the world after the fall of the USSR. Cubans benefited from free education and healthcare and low poverty rates, making Castro a generally popular leader.

However his dictatorial style of government and suppression of any kind of opposition began to wear thin among the citizens, years after the same such policies had ended in other socialist countries.

CUBA REBELLION Source: AP/Press Association Images

Cuba was also repeatedly criticised for its human rights breaches under Castro, and thousands of Cubans have fled from the country.

The socialist revolutionary assumed power in 1959 after he and a group of followers overthrew sitting US-backed president Fulgencio Batista.

Castro served as prime minister from 1959 to 1976 and as president from 1976 until 2008 when he stood down to allow his brother Raúl to take over as leader.


Fidel Castro was born on 13 August 1926 in rural Cuba and was the son of a successful landowner. He was educated by Jesuit priests and studied law at the University of Havana.

Throughout his time in education, he gradually became disillusioned with how Cuba was run and the grinding poverty experienced by so many of his fellow citizens. He had been planning to run for election in 1952 when the government was overthrown by General Fulgencio Batista.

The new regime radicalised the young Castro, who began to focus on armed revolution rather than change through the ballot box. He tried to lead an uprising against Batista with his brother Raúl in 1953, but the rebellion failed, and Castro was sentenced to 15 years in jail.

CUBA CASTRO READS Castro pictured in 1957 Source: AP/Press Association Images

After being released early under an amnesty two years later, he fled to Mexico in 1955 where he met Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, a young Argentine who shared his views on socialist revolution, and the two built up a guerilla force.

In 1956, they travelled to Cuba with their group of insurgents and began a guerilla war against the government which lasted for the next two years. In 1958, Batista fled the country and early in 1959, Fidel Castro was sworn in as leader.

In charge

Once in charge, Castro brought radical communist reforms to Cuba. The economy  was nationalised and he promised to defend the rights of the poor and give the land back to the people.

CASTRO SPEAKS BEFORE UN Castro addresses the UN General Assembly in September 1960 Source: AP/Press Association Images

Castro also focused on raising living standards for the poorest people. Under the Batista regima, half of children in Cuba did not go to school. A decade after Castro took over, the UN declared that Cuba had the highest primary and secondary school enrolment in Latin America.

However, with the Cold War at its height, the US was predictably unhappy about a socialist country being located right on its doorstep. Washington imposed economic sanctions on Cuba from 1960, which were to last for more than 50 years.

In April 1961, the CIA backed an invasion by Cuban exiles into the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, which was a massive and public failure. Many of the exiles were either killed or captured.

Just months later, US planes discovered Soviet missiles were on their way to be stored in Cuba, and the prospect of all-out nuclear war became a real threat. The US and the Soviet Union came as close as they have ever come to all-out war in the Cuban Missile Crisis, before both sides backed down.

Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro Castro with Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev in 1964 Source: Photas/Tass/Press Association Images

Tensions between the US and Cuba remained high throughout Castro’s tenure, and he survived numerous CIA plots and attempts to assassinate him over the years. As well as trying bombs and snipers, less conventional plots included an exploding cigar and a fungus-filled diving suit.

For three decades, the Soviet Union continued to pour money into Cuba, buying the bulk of the island’s sugar harvest. The collapse of the USSR was disastrous for the Cuban economy, which was still suffering under the American blockade. Food supplies dropped and the country’s economy struggled throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

Fidel Castro 1985 Source: AP/Press Association Images

Critics said that this exposed how Castro’s dictatorship could not independently support a strong economy; supporters claimed that the social policies had been hugely advantageous for Cubans, with a 98% literacy rate, infant mortality rates which compare favourably with western nations, and good medical care for all.

Recent years

The end to Castro’s reign began in July 2006 when he underwent emergency intestinal surgery. He officially handed over power to Raúl two years later, having scarcely been seen in public since.

In the years since, some of the country’s strict rules have eased. Small SMEs are allowed, Cubans have been permitted to buy houses, private farmers have been given more autonomy to grow and sell their produce, and some political prisoners have been freed.

VENEZUELA CASTRO Castro with then-Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez in 2001. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Castro lived to see the historic shift in relations between Cuba and the United States announced in December 2014 when Barack Obama said that the long-time foes were to restore diplomatic relations after five decades.

Obama visited Cuba in March 2016, becoming the first US leader to visit the country in almost 90 years. In a speech, he called on Cubans to forget the history of hostility between the two countries and to move towards a more normalised relationship.

Castro is survived by his second wife, Dalia Soto del Valle, and their five children, as well as his six children from his first marriage.

With AFP

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