Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz ( born August 13, 1926) is a Marxist Cuban politician.One of the primary leaders of the Cuban Revolution, Castro served as the Prime Minister of Cuba from February 1959 to December 1976, and then as the President of the Council of State of Cuba and the President of Council of Ministers of Cuba until his resignation from the office in February 2008. He served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from the party's foundation in 1961 until December 2010, when he delegated his responsibilites due to health reasons.His younger brother Raúl Castro is currently Second Secretary of the Communist Party and President of the Councils of State and Ministers and previously served under Fidel as Minister of Defence in 1959-2008.
While studying law at the University of Havana, he began his political career and became a recognized figure in Cuban politics. His political career continued with nationalist critiques of the president, Fulgencio Batista, and of the United States' political and corporate influence in Cuba. He gained an ardent, but limited, following and also drew the attention of the authorities. He eventually led the failed 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks, after which he was captured, tried, incarcerated, and later released. He then traveled to Mexicoto organize and train for an invasion of Cuba to overthrow Batista's government, which began in December 1956.
Castro subsequently came to power as a result of the Cuban Revolution, which overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Batista,and shortly thereafter became Prime Minister of Cuba. In 1965 he became First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, and led the transformation of Cuba into a one-party socialist republic. In 1976 he became President of the Council of State as well as of the Council of Ministers. He also held the supreme military rank of Comandante en Jefe ("Commander in Chief") of the Cuban armed forces.
Following intestinal surgery from an undisclosed digestive illness believed to have been diverticulitis, Castro transferred his responsibilities to the First Vice-President, his younger brother Raúl Castro, on July 31, 2006. On February 19, 2008, five days before his mandate was to expire, he announced he would neither seek nor accept a new term as either president or commander-in-chief. On February 24, 2008, the National Assembly elected Raúl Castro to succeed him as the President of Cuba. Castro is currently most active in commenting on world affairs, commonly in the form of his regularly published Reflections, articles offering his view on world events from US foreign policy to global warming.
* 1 Childhood and education
* 2 Political beginnings
o 2.1 Decision for revolution
* 3 Cuban Revolution
o 3.1 Attack on Moncada Barracks
o 3.2 26th of July Movement
o 3.3 Operation Verano
o 3.4 Battle of Yaguajay
o 3.5 Collapse of the Batista regime
o 3.6 New government
o 3.7 Castro consolidates power
* 4 Years in power
o 4.1 Bay of Pigs Invasion
o 4.2 Reaction: the socialist state
o 4.3 Cuban Missile Crisis
o 4.4 Assassination attempts
o 4.5 United States embargo
o 4.6 Foreign relations
+ 4.6.1 Soviet Union
+ 4.6.2 Other countries
* 5 Religious beliefs
* 6 Succession issues
o 6.1 Speculation on illness 1998–2005
o 6.2 Retirement
* 7 Public image
* 8 Controversy and criticism
o 8.1 Human rights record
Childhood and education
|A letter written by the 14-year-old Castro to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, expressing admiration and asking for a $10 bill. In the letter Castro claims to be "twelve years old" and writes, "If you like, give me a ten dollar bill green American, because never, I have not seen a ten dollar bill," signing the letter, "Thank you very much. Good by [sic]. Your friend, Fidel Castro."|
His mother, Lina Ruz González (September 23, 1903 – August 6, 1963.), was a household servant. Ángel Castro was married to another woman, Maria Luisa Argota,until Fidel was 15, and thus Fidel as a child had to deal both with his illegitimacy and the challenge of being raised in various foster homes away from his father's house.
Castro has two brothers, Ramón and Raúl, and four sisters, Angelita, Juanita, Enma, and Agustina, all of whom were born out of wedlock. He also has two half siblings, Lidia and Pedro Emilio who were raised by Ángel Castro's first wife. His maternal grandparents were canarian people.Fidel was not baptized until he was 8, also very uncommon, bringing embarrassment and ridicule from other children.Ángel Castro finally dissolved his first marriage when Fidel was 15 and married Fidel’s mother. Castro was formally recognized by his father when he was 17, when his surname was legally changed to Castro from Ruz, his mother’s name.
Although accounts of his education differ, most sources agree that he was an intellectually gifted student, more interested in sports than in academics, and spent many years in private Catholic boarding schools, finishing high school at El Colegio de Belén, a Jesuit school in Havana in 1945. While at Belén, Castro pitched on the school's baseball team. There are persistent rumors that Castro was scouted for various U.S. baseball teams, but there is no evidence that this ever actually happened.
In late 1945, Castro entered law school at the University of Havana. He became immediately embroiled in the political culture at the University, which was a reflection of the volatile politics in Cuba during that era. Since the fall of president Gerardo Machado in the 1930s, student politics had degenerated into a form of gangsterismo dominated by fractious action groups, and Castro, believing that the gangs posed a physical threat to his university aspirations, experienced what he later described as "a great moment of decision."
He returned to the university from a brief hiatus to involve himself fully in the various violent battles and disputes which surrounded university elections, and was to be implicated in a number of shootings linked to Rolando Masferrer's MSR action group. "To not return", said Castro later, "would be to give in to bullies, to abandon my beliefs".Rivalries were so intense that Castro apparently collaborated in an attempt on Masferrer's life during this period, while Masferrer, whose paramilitary group Les Tigres later became an instrument of state violence under Batista, perennially hunted the younger student seeking violent retribution.
In 1947, Castro joined the Partido Ortodoxo which had been newly formed by Eduardo Chibás. A charismatic figure, Chibás attracted many Cubans with his message of social justice, honest government, and political freedom. Chibás was running for president against the incumbent Ramón Grau San Martín who had allowed rampant corruption to flourish during his term. The Partido Ortodoxo publicly exposed corruption and demanded government and social reform. It aimed to instill a strong sense of national identity among Cubans, establish Cuban economic independence and freedom from the United States, and dismantle the power of the elite over Cuban politics. Though Chibás lost the election, Castro, considering Chibás his mentor, remained committed to his cause, working fervently on his behalf. In 1951, while running for president again, Chibás shot himself in the stomach during a radio broadcast. Castro was present and accompanied him to the hospital where he died.
During 1948, Castro was twice linked to political assassinations. He was suspected of Manolo Castro's assassination that took place on February 22.This was soon followed on June 6 by the assassination of the university policeman Oscar Fernandez, who was killed in front of his home; as he lay dying, he allegedly identified Castro as his killer, as did several other witnesses, although Castro himself was never put on trial for the incident. In 1948, Castro joined an anti-American demonstration trip to Bogotá, Colombia, paid by Argentine army colonel and President Juan Perón.Castro joined mob violence and property destruction, and later sought refuge in the Argentine embassy.
Decision for revolution
In 1948, Castro married Mirta Díaz Balart, a student from a wealthy Cuban family through which he was exposed to the lifestyle of the Cuban elite. Mirta's father gave tens of thousands to spend in a three-month honeymoon in New York.Castro also received a $1,000 wedding gift from Fulgencio Batista, the ex-President who was a friend of both families.Although Castro considered enrolling at Columbia University, a private university in Manhattan, he returned to Cuba to complete his degree.
Castro started to have money problems. He refused to find work and others had to pay the family's bills.The relationship with his wife was also strained. In 1950 he graduated from law school with a Doctor of Laws degree and began practicing law in a small partnership in Havana. By now he had become well known for his passionately nationalist views and his intense opposition to the United States. Castro spoke publicly against the United States involvement in defending South Korea in the Korean War.
In 1951, Fidel Castro said to Batista "I don't see an important book here". When Batista asked which, Castro replied "Curzio Malaparte's The Technique of the Coup d'état". According to Rafael Diaz-Ballart, Fidel Castro realized that Batista was not a "revolutionary" leader anymore, even though both looked at each other with admiration.
Increasingly interested in a career in politics, Castro had become a candidate for a seat in the Cuban parliament in the 1952 elections when former president, General Fulgencio Batista, ousted President Carlos Prío Socarrás in a coup d'état, cancelled the elections and assumed government as "provisional president". Batista was supported by establishment elements of Cuban society, powerful Cuban agencies, and labor unions.
Main article: Cuban Revolution
Attack on Moncada Barracks
Main article: Moncada Barracks
As discontent over the Batista coup grew, Castro abandoned his law practice and formed an underground organization of supporters, including his brother, Raúl, and Mario Chanes de Armas. Together they actively plotted to overthrow Batista. They collected guns and ammunition and finalized their plans for an armed attack on Moncada Barracks, Batista's largest garrison outside Santiago de Cuba. On the 26th of July, 1953, they attacked Moncada Barracks. The Céspedes garrison in Bayamo was also attacked as a diversion. The attack proved disastrous and more than sixty of the one-hundred and thirty-five militants involved were killed.
Castro and other surviving members of his group managed to escape to a part of the rugged Sierra Maestra mountains east of Santiago where they were eventually discovered and captured.
Although there is disagreement over why Castro and his brother, Raúl, were not executed on capture as many of their fellow militants were, there is evidence that an officer recognized Castro from his university days and treated the captured rebels compassionately, despite the 'illegal' unofficial order to have the leader executed.Others, such as Angel Prado, military commander of the 26th of July Movement, say that on the morning of the attack Castro's driver got lost and he never reached the barracks. In his spoken autobiography Castro maintains that his car, which was second in the convoy of 'ten or twelve' cars, encountered a foot patrol near to the Moncada Barracks. When he stopped the car to deal with them, the rest of the convoy also stopped and so the momentum of the operation was lost. He gives this as the sole reason for the failure of the operation.
Castro was tried in the fall of 1953 and sentenced to up to fifteen years in prison. During his trial Castro delivered his famous defense speech History Will Absolve Me, upholding his rebellious actions and boldly declaring his political views:
I warn you, I am just beginning! If there is in your hearts a vestige of love for your country, love for humanity, love for justice, listen carefully... I know that the regime will try to suppress the truth by all possible means; I know that there will be a conspiracy to bury me in oblivion. But my voice will not be stifled – it will rise from my breast even when I feel most alone, and my heart will give it all the fire that callous cowards deny it... Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.
While he was being held at the prison for political activists on Isla de Pinos, he continued to plot Batista's overthrow, planning upon release to reorganize and train in Mexico. After having served less than two years, he was released in May 1955 due to a general amnesty from Batista who was under political pressure, and went as planned to Mexico.
26th of July Movement
Main article: 26th of July Movement
Once in Mexico, Castro reunited with other Cuban exiles and founded the 26th of July Movement, named after the date of the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks. The goal remained the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista. Castro had learned from the Moncada experience that new tactics were needed if Batista's forces were to be defeated. This time, the plan was to use underground guerrilla tactics, which were used by the Cubans the last time they attempted a populist overthrow of what they considered an imperialistic regime. The Cuban war of Independence against the Spanish was Cuba's introduction to guerrilla warfare, about which they read once the Cuban campaign ended but was taken up by Emilio Aguinaldo in the Philippines. Once again, it would be guerrilla warfare to bring down a government.
In Mexico Castro met Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a proponent of guerrilla warfare. Guevara joined the group of rebels and became an important force in shaping Castro's evolving political beliefs. Guevara's observations of the misery of the poor in Latin America had already convinced him that the only solution lay in violent revolution.
Since regular contacts with a KGB agent named Nikolai Sergeevich Leonov in Mexico City had not resulted in the hoped for weapon supply,they decided to go to the United States to gather personnel and funds from Cubans living there, including Carlos Prío Socarrás, the elected Cuban president deposed by Batista in 1952. Back in Mexico, the group trained under a Spanish Civil War Veteran, Cuban-born Alberto Bayo who had fled to Mexico after Francisco Franco's victory in Spain. On November 26, 1956, Castro and his group of 81 followers, mostly Cuban exiles, set out from Tuxpan, Veracruz, aboard the yacht Granma for the purpose of starting a rebellion in Cuba.
The rebels landed at Playa Las Coloradas close to Los Cayuelos near the eastern city of Manzanillo on December 2, 1956. In short order, most of Castro's men were killed, dispersed, or taken prisoner by Batista's forces.While the exact number is in dispute, it is agreed that no more than twenty of the original eighty-two men survived the bloody encounters with the Cuban army and succeeded in fleeing to the Sierra Maestra mountains.The group of survivors included Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raúl Castro, and Camilo Cienfuegos. Those who survived were aided by people in the countryside. They regrouped in the Sierra Maestra in Oriente province and organized a column under Fidel Castro's command.
From their encampment in the Sierra Maestra mountains, the 26th of July Movement waged a guerrilla war against the Batista government. In the cities and major towns also, resistance groups were organizing until underground groups were everywhere. The strongest was in Santiago formed by Frank País.
In the summer of 1957, País’s organization merged with the 26th of July Movement of Castro. As Castro's movement gained popular support in the cities and countryside, it grew to over eight hundred men. In mid-1957 Castro gave Che Guevara command of a second column. A journalist, Herbert Matthews from the New York Times, came to interview him in the Sierra Maestra, attracting interest to Castro's cause in the United States. The New York Times front page stories by Matthews presented Castro as a romantic and appealing revolutionary, bearded and dressed in rumpled fatigues. Castro and Matthews were followed by the TV crew of Andrew Saint George, said to be a CIA contact person.Through television, Castro's rudimentary command of the English language and charismatic presence enabled him to appeal directly to a U.S. audience.
In 1957, Castro also signed the Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra in which he agreed to call elections under the Electoral Code of 1943 within the first 18 months of his time in power and to restore all of the provisions of the 1940 Constitution of Cuba that had been suspended under Batista. While he took steps to implement some of the measures in the Manifesto upon coming into power, Cuba failed to have elections, the most important part of the program, within the allotted time.
In February 1958, Castro published in Coronet Magazine a famous statement of the goals of the movement. He stated that "we are fighting to do away with dictatorship in Cuba and to establish the foundations of genuine representative government" and promised to "prepare and conduct truly honest general elections within twelve months" after success. He also stated, "we have no plans for the expropriation or nationalization of foreign investments here". He also justified his attacks on Cuba's economy as the only way to bring down the Batista dictatorship. Despite his denouncement of dictatorships, Castro himself has been described as a dictator.
Main article: Operation Verano
In May 1958, Batista launched Operation Verano aiming to crush Castro and other anti-government groups. It was called La Ofensiva ("The Offensive") by the rebels (Alarcón Ramírez,1997). Although on paper heavily outnumbered, Castro's guerrilla forces scored a series of victories, largely aided by mass desertions from Batista's army of poorly trained and uncommitted young conscripts. During the Battle of La Plata, Castro's forces defeated an entire battalion. While pro-Castro Cuban sources later emphasized the role of Castro's guerrilla forces in these battles, other groups and leaders were also involved, such as escopeteros (poorly armed irregulars). During the Battle of Las Mercedes, Castro's small army came close to defeat but he managed to pull his troops out by opening up negotiations with General Cantillo while secretly slipping his soldiers out of a trap.
When Operation Verano ended, Castro ordered three columns commanded by Guevara, Jaime Vega and Camilo Cienfuegos to invade central Cuba where they were strongly supported by rebellious elements who had long been operating in the area. One of Castro's columns moved out onto the Cauto Plains. Here, they were supported by Huber Matos, Raúl Castro and others who were operating in the eastern-most part of the province. On the plains, Castro's forces first surrounded the town of Guisa in Granma Province and drove out their enemies, then proceeded to take most of the towns that had been taken by Calixto García in the 1895–1898 Cuban War of Independence.
Battle of Yaguajay
Main article: Battle of Yaguajay
In December 1958, the columns of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos continued their advance through Las Villas province. They succeeded in occupying several towns, and then began preparations for an attack on Santa Clara, the provincial capital. Guevara's fighters launched a fierce assault on the Cuban army surrounding Santa Clara, and a vicious house-to-house battle ensued. They also derailed an armored train which Batista had sent to aid his troops in the city while Cienfuegos won the Battle of Yaguajay. Defeated on all sides, Batista's forces crumbled. The provincial capital was captured after less than a day of fighting on December 31, 1958.
Collapse of the Batista regime
Main article: Fulgencio Batista
After the loss at the Battle of Santa Clara, expecting betrayal by his own army and having lost all backup from the previously supportive US government, Batista (accompanied by president-elect Andrés Rivero Agüero) boarded a plane and fled to the Dominican Republic in the early hours of January 1, 1959. Accompanying Batista into exile was an amassed fortune of more than $300,000,000 that he acquired through "graft and payoffs."
Batista left behind a junta headed by Gen. Eulogio Cantillo, recently the commander in Oriente province, the center of the Castro revolt. The junta immediately selected Dr. Carlos Piedra, the oldest judge of the Supreme Court, as provisional President of Cuba as specified in the Constitution of 1940. Castro refused to accept the selection of Justice Piedra as provisional President and the Supreme Court refused to administer the oath of office to the Justice.[
The rebel forces of Fidel Castro moved swiftly to seize power throughout the island. At the age of 32, Castro had successfully masterminded a classic guerrilla campaign from his headquarters in the Sierra Maestra and ousted Batista.
On January 8, 1959, Castro's army rolled victoriously into Havana and would shortly thereafter declare that "power does not interest me, and I will not take it." As news of the fall of Batista's government spread through Havana, The New York Times described the scene as one of jubilant crowds pouring into the streets and automobile horns honking. The black and red flag of the 26th of July Movement waved on automobiles and buildings. The atmosphere was chaotic.Castro called a general strike in protest of the Piedra government. He demanded that Dr. Urrutia, former judge of the Urgency Court of Santiago de Cuba, be installed as the provisional President instead. The Cane Planters Association of Cuba, speaking on behalf of the island's crucial sugar industry, issued a statement of support for Castro and his movement.
Law professor José Miró Cardona created a new government with himself as prime minister and Manuel Urrutia Lleó as president on January 5. The United States officially recognized the new government two days later. Castro himself arrived in Havana to cheering crowds and assumed the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces on January 8.
Castro consolidates power
"Until Castro, the U.S. was so overwhelmingly influential in Cuba that the American ambassador was the second most important man, sometimes even more important than the Cuban president."
– Earl T. Smith, former American Ambassador to Cuba, during 1960 testimony to the U.S. Senate
Fidel Castro sought to oust liberals and democrats, such as José Miró Cardona and Manuel Urrutia Lleó. In February professor José Miró Cardona had to resign because of Castro's attacks. On February 16, 1959, Castro was sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba. Professor Miró soon went into exile in the United States, and would later participate in the Bay of Pigs Invasion against Castro's form of government. President Manuel Urrutia Lleó wanted to restore elections, but Castro opposed free elections.Castro's slogan was "Revolution first, elections later".
The new government began expropriating property and announced plans to base the compensation on the artificially low property valuations that the companies themselves had kept to a fraction of their true value so that their taxes would be negligible. During this period Castro repeatedly denied being a communist. For example in New York on April 25 he said, "...[communist] influence is nothing. I don't agree with communism. We are democracy. We are against all kinds of dictators... That is why we oppose communism."
Between April 15 and April 26, Castro and a delegation of industrial and international representatives visited the U.S. as guests of the Press Club. Castro hired one of the best public relations firms in the United States for a charm offensive visit by Castro and his recently initiated government. Castro answered impertinent questions jokingly and ate hot dogs and hamburgers. His rumpled fatigues and scruffy beard cut a popular figure easily promoted as an authentic hero. He was refused a meeting with President Eisenhower. After his visit to the United States, he would go on to join forces with the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev.
On May 17, 1959, Castro signed into law the First Agrarian Reform, which limited landholdings to 993 acres (4 km²) per owner and forbade foreign land ownership.
Castro started to organize attacks on President Manuel Urrutia Lleó. Castro himself resigned as Prime Minister of Cuba and later that day appeared on television to deliver a lengthy denouncement of Urrutia, claiming that Urrutia "complicated" government, and that his "fevered anti-Communism" was having a detrimental effect. Castro's sentiments received widespread support as organized crowds surrounded the presidential palace demanding Urrutia's resignation, which was duly received. On July 23, Castro resumed his position as premier and appointed Osvaldo Dorticós as the new president.
Years in power
As early as July 1959, Castro's intelligence chief Ramiro Valdés contacted the KGB in Mexico City. Subsequently, the USSR sent over one hundred mostly Spanish speaking advisors, including Enrique Líster Forján, to organize the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.
In February 1960, Cuba signed an agreement to buy oil from the USSR. When the U.S.-owned refineries in Cuba refused to process the oil, they were expropriated, and the United States broke off diplomatic relations with the Castro government soon afterward. To the concern of the Eisenhower administration, Cuba began to establish closer ties with the Soviet Union. A variety of pacts were signed between Castro and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, allowing Cuba to receive large amounts of economic and military aid from the USSR. The mould was set. U.S. disappointment with their lack of power in Cuban decision making fueled Castro's fears leading to increasing Cuban dependence on USSR support.
In June 1960, Eisenhower reduced Cuba's sugar import quota by 7,000,000 tons, and in response, Cuba nationalized some $850 million worth of U.S. property and businesses. Health care and education were socialized. The new government took control of the country by nationalizing industry, redistributing property, collectivizing agriculture and creating policies that would benefit the poor. While popular among the poor, these policies alienated many former supporters of the revolution among the Cuban middle and upper-classes. Over one million Cubans later migrated to the U.S., forming a vocal anti-Castro community in Miami, Florida, actively supported and funded by successive U.S. administrations.
By the early autumn of 1960, the U.S. government was engaged in a semi-secret campaign to remove Castro from power.
In September 1960, Castro created Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which implemented neighborhood spying in an effort to weed out "counter-revolutionary" activities.
By the end of 1960, all opposition newspapers had been closed down and all radio and television stations were in state control, run under the Leninist principle of Democratic Centralism. Moderates, teachers and professors were purged . He was accused of keeping about 20,000 dissidents held captive and tortured under inhuman prison conditions every year.
Groups such as homosexuals were locked up in concentration camps in the 1960s, where they were subject to medical-political "re-education". Castro's admiring description of rural life in Cuba ("in the country, there are no homosexuals") reflected the idea of homosexuality as bourgeois decadence, and he denounced "maricones" (faggots) as "agents of imperialism". Castro stated that "homosexuals should not be allowed in positions where they are able to exert influence upon young people". However, in August 2010, Castro called the sending of openly gay men to labor camps without charge or trial "moments of great injustice, great injustice!" saying that "if someone is responsible, it's me."
Loyalty to Castro became the primary criteria for all appointments in the island. The Communist Party strengthened its one-party rule, with Castro as the Prime Minister.
In the 1961 New Year's Day parade, Castro exhibited Soviet tanks and other weapons. The Soviet Union awarded him the Lenin Peace Prize later that year.
Bay of Pigs Invasion
Main article: Bay of Pigs Invasion
The Bay of Pigs Invasion (known as La Batalla de Girón, or Playa Girón in Cuba), was an unsuccessful attempt by a US-trained force of Cuban exiles to invade southern Cuba with support from US government armed forces, to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro.
The plan was launched in April 1961, less than three months after John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency in the United States. The Cuban armed forces, trained and equipped by Eastern Bloc nations, defeated the exile combatants in three days.
Reaction: the socialist state
On May 1, 1961, Castro declared Cuba a socialist state and officially abolished multiparty elections. Critics noted that Castro feared elections would eject him from power. On the same day Castro announced to the hundreds of thousands in his audience that:
The revolution has no time for elections. There is no more democratic government in Latin America than the revolutionary government. ... If Mr. Kennedy does not like Socialism, we do not like imperialism. We do not like capitalism.
In a nationally broadcast speech on December 2, 1961, Castro declared that he was a Marxist-Leninist and that Cuba was adopting Communism. On February 7, 1962, the US imposed an embargo against Cuba. This embargo was broadened during 1962 and 1963, including a general travel ban for American tourists.
Cuban Missile Crisis
Main article: Cuban Missile Crisis
Tensions between Cuba and the U.S. heightened during the 1962 missile crisis, which nearly brought the U.S. and the USSR into nuclear conflict. Khrushchev conceived the idea of placing missiles in Cuba as a deterrent to a possible U.S. invasion and justified the move in response to U.S. missile deployment in Turkey. After consultations with his military advisors, he met with a Cuban delegation led by Raúl Castro in July in order to work out the specifics. It was agreed to deploy Soviet R-12 MRBMs on Cuban soil; however, American Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance discovered the construction of the missile installations on October 15, 1962 before the weapons had actually been deployed.
The U.S. government viewed the installation of Soviet nuclear weapons 90 miles (145 km) south of Key West as an aggressive act and a threat to U.S. security. As a result, the U.S. publicly announced its discovery on October 22, 1962, and implemented a quarantine around Cuba that would actively intercept and search any vessels heading for the island. Nikolai Sergevich Leonov, who would become a General in the KGB Intelligence Directorate and the Soviet KGB deputy station chief in Warsaw, was the translator Castro used for contact with the Russians during this period.
In a personal letter to Khrushchev dated October 27, 1962, Castro urged him to launch a nuclear first strike against the United States if Cuba were invaded, but Khrushchev rejected any first strike response Soviet field commanders in Cuba were, however, authorized to use tactical nuclear weapons if attacked by the United States. Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for a U.S. commitment not to invade Cuba and an understanding that the US would secretly remove American MRBMs targeting the Soviet Union from Turkey and Italy, a measure that the U.S. implemented a few months later. The missile swap was never publicized because the Kennedy Administration demanded secrecy in order to preserve NATO relations and protect Democratic Party candidates in the upcoming U.S. elections.
Fabian Escalante, who was long tasked with protecting the life of Castro, estimated the number of assassination schemes or attempts by the CIA to be 638. Some such attempts allegedly included an exploding cigar, a fungal-infected scuba-diving suit, and a mafia-style shooting. Some of these plots are depicted in a documentary entitled 638 Ways to Kill Castro. One of these attempts was by his ex-lover Marita Lorenz whom he met in 1959. She allegedly agreed to aid the CIA and attempted to smuggle a jar of cold cream containing poison pills into his room. When Castro realized, he reportedly gave her a gun and told her to kill him but her nerve failed. Castro once said, in regards to the numerous attempts on his life he believes have been made, "If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal."
According to the Family Jewels documents declassified by the CIA in 2007, one such assassination attempt before the Bay of Pigs invasion involved Johnny Roselli and Al Capone's successor in the Chicago Outfit, Salvatore Giancana and his right-hand man Santos Trafficante. It was personally authorized by the then US attorney general Robert Kennedy.[
Giancana and Miami Syndicate leader Santos Trafficante were contacted in September 1960 about the possibility of an assassination attempt by a go-between from the CIA, Robert Maheu, after Maheu had contacted Johnny Roselli, a member of the Las Vegas Syndicate and Giancana's number-two man. Maheu had presented himself as a representative of numerous international business firms in Cuba that were being expropriated by Castro. He offered $150,000 for the "removal" of Castro through this operation (the documents suggest that neither Roselli nor Giancana and Trafficante accepted any sort of payments for the job). According to the files, it was Giancana who suggested using a series of poison pills that could be used to doctor Castro's food and drink. These pills were given by the CIA to Giancana's nominee Juan Orta, whom Giancana presented as being an official in the Cuban government who was also in the pay of gambling interests, and who did have access to Castro.
After a series of six attempts to introduce the poison into Castro's food, Orta abruptly demanded to be let out of the mission, handing over the job to another, unnamed participant. Later, a second attempt was mounted through Giancana and Trafficante using Dr. Anthony Verona, the leader of the Cuban Exile Junta, who had, according to Trafficante, become "disaffected with the apparent ineffectual progress of the Junta". Verona requested $10,000 in expenses and $1,000 worth of communications equipment. However, it is unknown how far the second attempt went, as the entire program was cancelled shortly thereafter due to the launching of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
United States embargo
|Castro arriving at the MATS Terminal in Washington D.C in 1959|
In 1994, the island's economy plunged into what was called the "Special Period"; teetering on the brink of collapse. Cuba legalized the US dollar, turned to tourism, and encouraged the transfer of remittances in US dollars from Cubans living in the USA to their relatives on the Island. After massive damage caused by Hurricane Michelle in 2001, Castro proposed a one-time cash purchase of food from the U.S. while declining a U.S. offer of humanitarian aid.
The U.S. authorized the shipment of food in 2001, the first since the embargo was imposed. During 2004, Castro shut down 118 factories, including steel plants, sugar mills and paper processors to compensate for the crisis due to fuel shortages., and in 2005 directed thousands of Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for oil imports.
Main article: Foreign relations of Cuba
Following the establishment of diplomatic ties to the Soviet Union, and after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba became increasingly dependent on Soviet markets and military and economic aid. Castro was able to build a formidable military force with the help of Soviet equipment and military advisors. The KGB kept in close touch with Havana, and Castro tightened Communist Party control over all levels of government, the media, and the educational system, while developing a Soviet-style internal police force.
Castro's alliance with the Soviet Union caused something of a split between him and Guevara. In 1966, Guevara left for Bolivia in an ill-fated attempt to stir up revolution against the country's government.
On August 23, 1968, Castro made a public gesture to the USSR that caused the Soviet leadership to reaffirm their support for him. Two days after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to repress the Prague Spring, Castro took to the airwaves and publicly denounced the Czech rebellion. Castro warned the Cuban people about the Czechoslovakian 'counterrevolutionaries', who "were moving Czechoslovakia towards capitalism and into the arms of imperialists". He called the leaders of the rebellion "the agents of West Germany and fascist reactionary rabble." In return for his public backing of the invasion, at a time when many Soviet allies were deeming the invasion an infringement of Czechoslovakia's sovereignty, the Soviets bailed out the Cuban economy with extra loans and an immediate increase in oil exports.
In 1971, despite an Organization of American States convention that no nation in the Western Hemisphere would have a relationship with Cuba (the only exception being Mexico, which had refused to adopt that convention), Castro took a month-long visit to Chile, following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. The visit, in which Castro participated actively in the internal politics of the country, holding massive rallies and giving public advice to Salvador Allende, was seen by those on the political right as proof to support their view that "The Chilean Way to Socialism" was an effort to put Chile on the same path as Cuba.
When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Cuba in 1989, the camaraderie between Havana and Moscow was strained by Gorbachev's implementation of economic and political reforms in the USSR. "We are witnessing sad things in other socialist countries, very sad things," lamented Castro in November 1989, in reference to the changes that were sweeping such communist allies as the Soviet Union, East Germany, Hungary, and Poland. The subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 had an immediate and devastating effect on Cuba.
"As I have said before, the ever more sophisticated weapons piling up in the arsenals of the wealthiest and the mightiest can kill the illiterate, the ill, the poor and the hungry, but they cannot kill ignorance, illness, poverty or hunger."
– Fidel Castro, 2002 
|Nelson Mandela with Castro after his release from prison on July 27, 1991, in Matanzas, Cuba. Their combined anti-apartheid speeches from the event were published as the book How Far We Slaves Have Come!|
Cuban troops were also sent to Marxist Ethiopia to assist Ethiopian forces in the Ogaden War with Somalia in 1977. In addition, Castro extended support to Marxist Revolutionary movements throughout Latin America, such as aiding the Sandinistas in overthrowing the Somoza government in Nicaragua in 1979. It has been claimed by the Carthage Foundation-funded Center for a Free Cuba that an estimated 14,000 Cubans were killed in Cuban military actions abroad. Castro never disclosed the amount of casualties in Soviet African wars, but one estimate is 14,000, a high number for the small country.
|Vladimir Putin and Castro in 2000.|
Cuba and Panama restored diplomatic ties in 2005 after breaking them off a year prior when Panama's former president pardoned four Cuban exiles accused of attempting to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro in 2000. The foreign minister of each country re-established official diplomatic relations in Havana by signing a document describing a spirit of fraternity that has long linked both nations.Cuba, once shunned by many of its Latin American neighbours, now has full diplomatic relations with all but Costa Rica and El Salvador.
Although the relationship between Cuba and Mexico remains strained, each side appears to make attempts to improve it. In 1998, Fidel Castro apologized for remarks he made about Mickey Mouse which led Mexico to recall its ambassador from Havana. He said he intended no offense when he said earlier that Mexican children would find it easier to name Disney characters than to recount key figures in Mexican history. Rather, he said, his words were meant to underscore the cultural dominance of the US. Mexican president Vicente Fox apologized to Fidel Castro in 2002 over statements by Castro, who had taped their telephone conversation, to the effect that Fox forced him to leave a United Nations summit in Mexico so that he would not be in the presence of President Bush, who also attended.
At a summit meeting of sixteen Caribbean countries in 1998, Castro called for regional unity, saying that only strengthened cooperation between Caribbean countries would prevent their domination by rich nations in a global economy. Caribbean nations have embraced Cuba's Fidel Castro while accusing the US of breaking trade promises. Castro, until recently a regional outcast, has been increasing grants and scholarships to the Caribbean countries, while US aid has dropped 25% over the past five years. Cuba has opened four additional embassies in the Caribbean Community including: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Suriname, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. This development makes Cuba the only country to have embassies in all independent countries of the Caribbean Community.
North Korea has granted Castro "the Golden Medal (Hammer and Sickle) and the First Class Order of the National Flag".
Libyan de facto leader Muammar al-Gaddafi has granted Castro a "Libyan human rights prize". On a visit to South Africa in 1998 he was warmly received by President Nelson Mandela. President Mandela gave Castro South Africa's highest civilian award for foreigners, the Order of Good Hope. Last December Castro fulfilled his promise of sending 100 medical aid workers to Botswana, according to the Botswana presidency. These workers play an important role in Botswana's war against HIV/AIDS. According to Anna Vallejera, Cuba's first-ever Ambassador to Botswana, the health workers are part of her country's ongoing commitment to proactively assist in the global war against HIV/AIDS,
In Harlem, Castro is seen as an icon because of his historic visit with Malcolm X in 1960 at the Hotel Theresa.
Castro was known to be a friend of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and was an honorary pall bearer at Trudeau's funeral in October 2000. They had continued their friendship after Trudeau left office until his death. Canada became one of the first American allies openly to trade with Cuba. Cuba still has a good relationship with Canada. In 1998, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien arrived in Cuba to meet President Castro and highlight their close ties. He is the first Canadian government leader to visit the island since Pierre Trudeau was in Havana in 1976.
The European Union accuses the Castro regime of "continuing flagrant violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms". In December 2001, European Union representatives described their political dialogue with Cuba as back on track after a weekend of talks in Havana. The EU praised Cuba's willingness to discuss questions of human rights. Cuba is the only Latin American country without an economic co-operation agreement with the EU. However, trade with individual European countries remains strong since the US trade embargo on Cuba leaves the market free from American rivals.
In 2005, EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel ended his visit to Cuba optimistic that relations with the communist state will become stronger. The EU is Cuba's largest trading partner. Cuba's imprisonment of 75 dissidents and the execution of three hijackers have strained diplomatic relations. However, the EU commissioner was impressed with Fidel Castro's willingness to discuss these concerns, although he received no commitments from Castro. Cuba does not admit to holding political prisoners, seeing them rather as mercenaries in the pay of the United States.
Castro is seen as an icon by leaders of recent socialist governments in Latin America. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is a long-time admirer and reached agreements with Cuba to provide subsidized petroleum in exchange for Cuban medical assistance. Evo Morales of Bolivia has described him as "the grandfather of all Latin American revolutionaries".
According to Article 94 of the Cuban Constitution, the First Vice President of the Council of State assumes presidential duties upon the illness or death of the president. Raúl Castro was the person in that position for the last 32 years of Fidel Castro's presidency.
Speculation on illness 1998–2005
Due to the issue of presidential succession and Castro's longevity, there have long been rumors, speculation and hoaxing about Castro's health and demise. In 1998 there were reports that he had a serious brain disease, later discredited. In June 2001, he apparently fainted during a seven-hour speech under the Caribbean sun. Later that day he finished the speech, walking buoyantly into the television studios in his military fatigues, joking with journalists.
In January 2004, Luis Eduardo Garzón, the mayor of Bogotá, said that Castro "seemed very sick to me" following a meeting with him during a vacation in Cuba. In May 2004, Castro's physician denied that his health was failing, and speculated that he would live to be 140 years old. Dr. Eugenio Selman Housein said that the "press is always speculating about something, that he had a heart attack once, that he had cancer, some neurological problem", but maintained that Castro was in good health.
On October 20, 2004, Castro tripped and fell following a speech he gave at a rally, breaking his kneecap and fracturing his right arm. He was able to recover his ability to walk and publicly demonstrated this two months later.
In 2005, the CIA said it thought Castro had Parkinson's disease. Castro denied such allegations, while also citing the example of Pope John Paul II in saying that he would not fear the disease.
"I'm really happy to reach 80. I never expected it, not least having a neighbor – the greatest power in the world – trying to kill me every day."
— Fidel Castro, July 21, 2006
In a letter dated February 18, 2008, Castro announced that he would not accept the positions of president and commander in chief at the February 24, 2008 National Assembly meetings, saying "I will not aspire nor accept—I repeat I will not aspire or accept—the post of President of the Council of State and Commander in Chief," effectively announcing his retirement from official public life. The letter was published online by the official Communist Party newspaper Granma. In it, Castro stated that his health was a primary reason for his decision, stating that "It would betray my conscience to take up a responsibility that requires mobility and total devotion, that I am not in a physical condition to offer".
On February 24, 2008, the National Assembly of People's Power unanimously chose his brother, Raúl Castro, as Fidel's successor as President of Cuba. In his first speech as Fidel’s successor, he proposed to the National Assembly of People's Power that Fidel continue to be consulted on matters of great importance, such as defence, foreign policy and "the socioeconomic development of the country". The proposal was immediately and unanimously approved by the 597 members of the National Assembly. Raúl described Fidel as "not substitutable". Castro also remains the First Secretary of the Communist Party.
Since his retirement, Castro has written a regular column in Granma called "Reflections", in which he writes on world affairs, and has occasionally made pre-taped appearances on television greeting visitors such as Hugo Chavez in his room. In July 2010, he made his first public appearance greeting workers at a science centre and gave his most prominent television interview since falling ill, on the Cuban program Mesa Redonda speaking for an extended period about tensions between the United States, Iran and North Korea.
On August 7, 2010, Castro gave his first speech to the Cuban National Assembly in four years. He addressed the body for ten minutes on international affairs and then remained to listen and respond to questions for a further 70 minutes. In his comments he urged the United States not to go to war with Iran or North Korea and warning about the dangers of a nuclear holocaust. When asked whether Castro may be re-entering government, Culture minister Abel Prieto told the BBC, "I think that he has always been in Cuba's political life but he is not in the government...He has been very careful about that. His big battle is international affairs."In September 2010 the Atlantic began publishing a series of articles based on an extensive and wide-ranging interviews with Castro, the first of which lasting five hours. While warning against the dangers of Western confrontation with Iran in which inadvertently, "a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war," Castro "unequivocally" defended Israel's right to exist and condemned anti-Semitism, criticizing also some of Ahmadinejad's rhetoric:
"I don't think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything..[Iran must understand] Jews were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God..The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust"
Asked if he would tell Ahmadinejad the same things, Castro responded, "I am saying this so you [the reporter] can communicate it" Castro "criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the 'unique' history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence."
By wearing military-style uniforms and leading mass demonstrations, Castro projected an image of a perpetual revolutionary. He was mostly seen in military attire, but his personal tailor, Merel Van 't Wout, convinced him to occasionally change to a business suit. Castro is often referred to as "Comandante", but is also nicknamed "El Caballo", meaning "The Horse", a label that was first attributed to Cuban entertainer Benny Moré, who on hearing Castro passing in the Havana night with his entourage, shouted out "Here comes the horse!"
During the revolutionary campaign, fellow rebels knew Castro as "The Giant". Large throngs of people gathered to cheer at Castro's fiery speeches, which typically lasted for hours. Many details of Castro's private life, particularly involving his family members, are scarce as the media is forbidden to mention them. Castro's image appears frequently in Cuban stores, classrooms, taxicabs, and national television. Despite this, Castro has stated that he does not promote a cult of personality.
Controversy and criticism
|Signs of protest in the 2010 Cuban Day Parade in Union City, New Jersey, a heavily Cuban-American community|
Many observers refer to Castro as a dictator and his rule was the longest to-date in modern Latin American history.
The Human Rights Watch organization has suggested that Castro constructed a "repressive machinery" which "continues to deprive Cubans of their basic rights".
Castro's 49-year regime remains one of the most controversial in the history of Latin America. Scholar R J Rummel estimates the casualties of his regime to 73,000, with one study estimating over 119,000 and several others suggesting significantly lower figures.