Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro
Born: Aug 13, 1926 in Birán, Oriente Province, Cuba
Nationality: Cuban
Famous For: President of Cuba from 1976 to 2008

Fidel Castro is a Cuban revolutionary leader and politician. He served as the country’s Prime Minister between 1959 and 1976, going on to rule as President from then until 2008. He was Commander in Chief of the Cuban military for almost half a century, and led the Cuban Communist Party for the same span of time.

After leading the revolt that overthrew the American-backed junta of Fulgencio Batista, Castro established a one-party socialist state in Cuba, nationalizing most businesses and extending leftist and communist teachings into all areas of Cuban society.

Early Life

Castro was born on August 13, 1926, in the small village of Birán in the east of the island. His father was a well-to-do farmer, but the young Fidel was an illegitimate child and therefore not provided with an entirely smooth childhood. This helped to inform the increasingly left-wing worldview that he adopted during his years at the University of Havana, where he studied law.

He traveled to Colombia and the Dominican Republic in order to participate in revolutions against those countries’ right-wing – and tacitly U.S.-backed – governments. This gave him the idea that something similar should be achieved in his home country.

Leading a Revolution

In 1953, Castro made his first serious move against the Batista regime, when he took part in an attempt to attack the Moncada Barracks. This assault ended in failure, and he was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. Upon his release, he went to Mexico and helped set up a group with revolutionary ideals similar to his own.

Other prominent members of the group included Raúl, his brother, and their friend, Che Guevara. The so-called 26th of July movement was named after the date of the Moncada attack. In 1959, Castro led a force back to Cuba, succeeded in toppling Batista, and then assumed power for himself.

International Relations

The United States, increasingly alarmed by Castro’s closeness to the Soviet Union and history of supporting socialist revolution, made a number of attempts to push the Cuban leader from power. These included both economic measures such as blockades and more direct action, which consisted of dozens of assassination attempts that are said to have been made.

The Bay of Pigs

The most serious military operation came in 1961, when the Bay of Pigs invasion ended in a humiliating failure for the United States. Castro proceeded to deepen his links with the U.S.S.R. and in 1962, he permitted the Russians to locate nuclear missiles on Cuba. This led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, generally considered the closest the world has come to nuclear war.

Castro’s Actions as Leader

Castro’s domestic administration stressed his socialist credentials. He introduced universal education and healthcare in Cuba as well as centralized economic planning. However, he also tightened censorship of the press and ruthlessly suppressed dissent within the country.

Overseas, Castro’s Cuba maintained an interventionist foreign policy, with Cuban troops being dispatched to the Middle East and Angola, among other countries. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Castro switched to making alliances with leftist Latin American leaders such as Hugo Chávez. By the 21st century, his health was beginning to fail and his brother, Raúl, gradually took on more responsibilities, taking over entirely from Fidel in 2008.