By The Associated Press
Havana – Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 US 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. Friday. His remains will be cremated early Saturday, “in compliance with his expressed will.”
Castro’s reign over the island-nation 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Florida was marked by the US-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 defiant image of the bearded revolutionary famed for his rumpled olive fatigues, straggly beard lingered long after he reluctantly gave up his trademark Cohiba cigars for health reasons and his tall frame grew stooped. He survived a crippling US trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds of assassination plots.
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.
“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 US 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.
“If I am considered a myth, the United States deserves the credit,” Fidel said in 1988.
Torn by dysfunction
A Jesuit-schooled lawyer, Fidel Castro Ruz was born Aug. 13, 1926, in eastern Cuba’s sugar country, where his Spanish immigrant father worked first recruiting labor for US sugar companies and later built up a prosperous plantation of his own.
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.
Castro, who took the nom de guerre Alejandro during the revolution, kept his private life largely private, but in recent years, more details became public.
In 1948, he married Mirta Diaz-Balart, who gave birth to their first son, Fidelito. The couple later divorced. In 1952, Castro met Naty Revuelta, a socialite married to a doctor, and they had a daughter, Alina, in 1956.
He met Celia Sanchez, said to have been his main life partner, in 1957 and remained with her until her death in 1980.
In the 1980s, Castro reportedly married Dalia Soto del Valle, a blonde, green-eyed former schoolteacher with whom he had five children: Angel, Antonio, Alejandro, Alexis and Alex in his continued homage to Alexander The Great.
None were involved in politics. The best known is Antonio, or Tony, an orthopedic surgeon and former official doctor of Cuba’s national baseball team. He later became vice president of both the Cuban Baseball Federation and the Swiss-based International Baseball Federation.
Soto del Valle was his life’s most enduring relationship who was rarely seen in public and never alongside the “maximum leader” while he was in power.
Castro’s rule of nearly five decades split many Cuban families between exile and solidarity with the communist revolution – including his own.
While brother Raul was his closest confidant and successor as president, sister Juana, exiled in south Florida, called Fidel a “monster” to whom she hadn’t spoken in more than four decades.
Eldest son Fidelito, long Castro’s only officially recognized child, was a nuclear scientist in Cuba. Eldest daughter Alina Fernandez blasted dad on exile radio from Miami.
The sprawling Castro clan also suffered from the same dysfunction and disagreements afflicting so many other families: siblings who don’t speak, adults resentful over childhood slights and murky talk of babies born out of wedlock. (With a report from AFP)
August 13, 1926 – Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, more popularly known as Fidel Castro, was born in Biran, Southeastern Cuba, to Spanish immigrant Ángel Castro y Argiz and his house servant Lina Ruz González, who became his mistress and eventually second wife; Fidel was the third in a brood of seven.
1947 – Castro joined a failed coup attempt to topple Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.
1949 – Under death threats from rival politicians, Castro moved to New York for a time following the birth of his first son, Fidelito.
1952 – Castro went underground with his anti-government activities after staging protests versus Fulgencio Batista, who took power via a coup.
July 26, 1953 – Castro led a failed attack on Santiago de Cuba’s Moncada military barracks, was arrested, with dozens of his men jailed.
May 15, 1955 – Under amnesty, Castro was released from jail and established the July 26 Movement.
July 7, 1955 – Castro fled to Mexico where he would meet Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Maria Laborde; the latter would give birth to Castro’s son Jorge Angel.
December 2, 1956 – With 81 fighters in tow, Castro landed in southeastern Cuba aboard Granma, then launched a 25-month-long military campaign in the Sierra Maestra mountains.
January 8, 1959 – Castro successfully entered Havana after Batista fled Cuba to Dominican Republic on New Year’s Day.
February 16, 1959 – Castro was sworn in as Cuba’s 16th prime minister.
March 10, 1959 – Castro discovered and foiled an assassination plot against him from the United States.
April 15-27, 1959 – Castro met US Vice President Richard Nixon in US.
1960 – Castro established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.
1961 – The US cut diplomatic relations with Cuba.
April 16, 1961 – Castro declared a “socialist revolution.”
April 17-19, 1961 – US-backed Bay of Pigs Invasion: Castro defeated some 1,400 Cuban exiles.
October 1962 – Missile Crisis: The Soviet Union deployed missiles in Cuban waters but agreed to withdraw them on condition that there would be no US invasion of Cuba.
October 1965 – Castro formed the new Cuban Communist Party and became its First Secretary.
October 15, 1967 – Castro announced death of “Che” Guevara in Bolivia.
1975 – Castro sent troops to aid South African-backed rebel fighters in Angola.
December 2, 1976 – Castro was installed as the 17th President of Cuba; his assumption to power was ratified by the newly formed National Assembly.
1980 – Mariel Boatlift: Castro allowed exodus of 125,000 refugees to the United States.
1988 – Castro criticized Soviet Union Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika (openness) policy.
1991 – The Soviet Union collapsed, plunging Cuba into extreme economic difficulties.
1992 – Castro reached an agreement with the US on Cuban refugees.
August 14, 1993 – Castro government ended ban on use of US dollars.
August 5, 1994 – Hundreds of Havana residents were embroiled in riots, the biggest anti-Castro disturbance since the 1959 revolution.
January 21-25, 1998 – Castro welcomed Pope John Paul II on his historic visit to Cuba.
June 12, 2002 – Castro led one million Cubans as they marched along Havana waterfront to defend socialist system in face of growing dissent and US pressures.
March 18, 2003 – Castro ordered the arrest and incarceration of 75 pro-democracy activists and journalists.
April 2005 – Castro inked an alliance with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, whose country’s oil is key to keeping Cuba’s economy afloat.
July 31, 2006 – Castro temporarily transferred power to his brother, defence chief Raul Castro, following a “delicate intestinal surgery.”
February 19, 2008 – Castro resigned as president but said he would remain the parliament.
February 24, 2008 – The National Assembly of People’s Power unanimously voted Castro’s brother Raul as president.
July 2010 – Castro made his first public appearance since falling ill.
April 19, 2011 – Castro resigned from the Communist Party central committee, thus becoming an elder statesman; Raúl was selected as his successor.
December 2014 – Castro was awarded the Chinese Confucius Peace Prize for seeking peaceful solutions to his nation’s conflict with the US and for his post-retirement efforts to prevent nuclear war.
November 25, 2016 – Younger brother, Raul Castro announced on state television that his brother Fidel Castro died at 10:29 p.m. He was 90. (Compiled by Manila Bulletin Research)
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