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Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro dies at age 90

Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist regime 94 statute miles from Florida and for five decades defied the efforts of the United States to topple him, died on Friday. He was 90. A towering figure of the second half of the 20th Century, Fidel Castro stuck to his ideology beyond the collapse of Soviet communism and remained widely respected in parts of the world that had struggled against colonial rule.

Castro had been in poor health since an intestinal ailment nearly killed him in 2006. He formally ceded power to his younger brother Raul Castro two years later.

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About Fidel Castro

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born on August 13, 1926 near Birán in Cuba's eastern Oriente province. He was the third of six children: two brothers, Raul and Ramon, and four sisters, Antelita, Juanita, Emma, and Augustina. His father, Angel, was a wealthy sugar plantation owner originally from Spain. His mother, Lina Ruz Gonzalez, had been a maid to Angel's first wife, Maria Luisa Argota, at the time of Fidel's birth. At 17, Fidel was formally recognized by his father and his name was changed from Ruz to Castro.

Young Fidel CastroEducated in private Jesuit boarding schools, Castro grew up in wealthy circumstances amid the poverty of Cuba's people. He was intellectually gifted but more interested in sports than studies. He attended El Colegio de Belen and pitched for the school's baseball team. After his graduation in late 1945, Castro entered law school at the University of Havana where student activism, violence, and gang fights were common. He became immersed in the political climate of Cuban nationalism, anti-imperialism, and socialism. Police suspected him of the murder of a rival student leader and other violent actions but nothing was proven. He was defeated in student elections several times.

In 1948, Castro participated in the Bogotazo, a series of riots in Bogota, Colombia, following the assassination of Liberal party leader Jorge E. Gaitán. He joined mobs and roamed the streets, distributing anti-United States material and stirring a revolt. Afterwards, Castro flew back to Havana and resumed his law studies.

While still a student, Castro married Mirta Díaz-Balart, a philosophy student whose wealthy family had political ties to powerful Cuban military leader Fulgencio Batista. The couple had one son, Fidelito, in 1949.

Early in 1952 Castro began campaigning for a seat in congress as a replacement for Chibás but the elections were never held. After General Batista and his army overthrew the regime of Cuban president Carlos Prío Socarrás, Castro organized a group of followers and on July 26, 1953, attacked the Moncada military barracks in Oriente Province. Castro was captured, tried, and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He released by an amnesty (a government pardon) in 1955.

Castro lead a years-long guerrilla campaign that forced right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista to flee Havana in the dark of night on January 1, 1959. Castro rode into Havana on a tank on January 8. He became the commander in chief of Cuba's armed forces. On February 16, 1959 Castro was sworn in as Cuba’s youngest prime minister. He was 32-years-old. He appointed his own brother, Raul, to replace him as commander of the armed forces.

Within months of taking over, Castro and his followers were lining up Batista supporters against the walls of the historic La Cabana fortress and executing them without fair trials. When he confiscated land and property owned by Americans, public opinion in the United States turned sharply against him.

Fidel Castro BiographyCastro wasted little time in cozying up to the Soviet Union, a relationship that brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere and convinced American officials that Castro had to go. In April 1961 anti-Castro exiles, supported by the United States under the leadership of its newly elected president, John F. Kennedy, attempted an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. The invasion, known in Cuba as La Batalla de Girón, or just Playa Girón, failed in part because the Cuban government learned the invasion was coming through their secret intelligence network.

In 1962, the United States faced off with the communist powers over the presence of Soviet medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs) in Cuba. These missiles had the ability to strike most of the continental United States. After considering an attack of Cuba via air and sea, the Kennedy Administration settled on a military "quarantine" of Cuba. After a tense standoff with the Soviet Union, the United States promised it would not try to invade Cuba. In a separate deal, which remained secret for more than twenty-five years, the United States also agreed to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Castro's revolution began to lose momentum. Without support from its Soviet allies, unemployment and inflation (increase in prices) both grew in Cuba. Castro sought a lifting of the U.S. trade embargo imposed after Castro's revolution. The U.S. government refused to negotiate with Cuba on trade matters until Castro ended his form of government.

In July 2006, Castro handed power to his younger brother Raúl Castro, his defense minister and closest confidant. While many thought he retained the post of head of the Communist Party, Fidel Castro stated in March 2011 that he had resigned five years earlier and had never tried to resume the post.

Fidel Castro resigned as Cuban President on February 19, 2008. He told the Cuban people that he had decided to permanently give up most of the positions of power and his brother Raúl was formally installed as president. Castro slipped from the spotlight, but never completely disappeared. He has met frequently with foreign leaders, usually while wearing a jogging suit, and written regular commentaries for Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, on everything from the global financial crisis to the World Cup.

From 2000 to 2009, Cuba experienced a series of severe economic disruptions, including lower sugar and nickel prices, increases in petroleum costs, devastating hurricanes in 2001, 2004, and 2008, a major drought in the eastern half of the island, increasing external debt, and stagnant or decreasing agricultural and industrial productivity. Significant economic assistance from Venezuela, and to a lesser degree China, has helped keep the Cuban economy afloat.

In 2005, Forbes Magazine listed Castro among the world's richest people, with an estimated net worth of $900 million. The assessment, which Forbes described as "more art than science", was drawn by making economic estimates of the net worth of Cuba's state-owned companies. It used the assumption that Castro had personal economic control. It also included $350 million in cash stashes rumored to be in Switzerland banks.

In the summer of 2010, a frail-looking Fidel Castro made a series of public appearances, leading to widespread speculation that he wanted to become more active in the day-to-day life of Cuba.

On August 7, 2010, Fidel addressed a session of the Cuban Parliament for the first time in four years. He warned that the confrontation between Iran and the United States and its allies over the issue of nuclear weapons had pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Castro gave up his last known leadership post on On April 19, 2011 when he stepped down as head of the ruling Communist Party. Raúl Castro was selected as his successor. On August 13, 2011, he was conspicuously absent from his 85th birthday party in Havana.

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