Fidel Castro was born as Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, on 13 Augus1926, in Birán, a small town in eastern Cuba. While married to his first wife, his father, Ángel Castro y Argiz, an immigrant from Spain and a prosperous sugarcane farmer, had an affair with one of his maids, Lina Ruz González, whom he later married. However, Fidel was born out of wedlock. At the age of eight, he was sent to La Salle boarding school in Santiago, where he regularly misbehaved and was transferred to the privately funded, Jesuit-run Dolores School in Santiago. After that, he was admitted to the more prestigious Jesuit-run El Colegio de Belan, where he proved himself as an outstanding athlete, but did not excel academically. In 1945, Fidel joined the University of Havana as a law student and became interested in politics. He became critical of the corruption and violence of President Ramon Grau’s government, delivered a public speech on the subject in November 1946 and in 1947 joining the anti-corruption Party of the Cuban people, participated in an aborted coup attempt against the brutal Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo.
In 1950, Castro graduated from the University of Havana, opened a law office and two years later, as a candidate of the reformist Cuban People’s Party, he ran for a seat in the House of Representatives, in the elections scheduled in June 1952. However, as the election was canceled, Castro organized a rebel force and in July 1953, led about 120 men in a suicidal attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba, with the hope of sparking a popular uprising. The assault failed, most of the men were killed, Castro was captured and sentenced to 15 years in prison. However, as part of a general amnesty, he was released in 1955 and ended up in Mexico, where he organized the Cuban exiles into a revolutionary group called the 26th July Movement and met Ernesto “Che” Guevara and plotted his return.
Next year, Castro and his 81men sailed on the yacht ‘Granma’ and landed on the eastern coast of Cuba on 2 December 1956, where government forces immediately ambushed them. While most of the men were either killed or captured, only about 18 survived, which included Fidel, his brother Raul and Guevara. They fled deep into the Sierra Maestra Mountains in southeastern Cuba with the strong determination to wage guerrilla warfare, though they were short of sufficient food and weapons. In the beginning, they started reorganizing with only two rifles. However, by early 1957 they were already attracting recruits and with the help of growing numbers of volunteers throughout the island, won a string of victories over the Rural Guard patrols.
As internal political support waned and military defeats multiplied, Batista, the Cuban military officer, who came to power and became the President of Cuba with the support from the United States government, fled the country on the 1st day of January1959, as Castro’s force of 800 guerrillas completely defeated the 30,000 men strong professional army of the Cuban Government. After a week, as Castro arrived Havana and took over the helm as the Prime Minister on 16 February 1959, the revolutionary tribunals began trying and executing members of the old regime for alleged war crimes.
In the summer of 1959, Fidel began nationalizing plantation lands owned by the American investors, as well as confiscating the property of the foreign landowners. By 1960, all the businesses owned by the Americans, including oil refineries, factories and casinos were nationalized. The trade agreement with the Soviet Union in February 1960 further deepened American distrust. Finally, the United States broke diplomatic relations with the island country in January 1961 and in April 1961, about 1,400 Cuban exiles trained and funded by the CIA landed near the Bay of Pigs with the intention to overthrow Fidel Castro. However, it was a disaster for the invaders, as after bombing their ships, Castro forced the Brigade to surrender on 20 April. In their unsuccessful attempt, more than 100 exiles were killed and nearly everyone else was captured. In December 1962, Castro freed those prisoners in exchange for medical supplies and baby food worth about $52 million.
Meanwhile, as the Soviet Union became the chief supporter and trade partner of the island country, Castro began to acquire weapons from them. In 1962, the Soviet Union secretly stationed ballistic missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida that could deliver nuclear warheads to the American cities. However, as the United States discovered it, the world came close to a nuclear war. After a 13-day standoff, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended when the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to withdraw its nuclear weapons from Cuba, against the wishes of Castro, who was not a party in the negotiations. In return, the US President John F Kennedy pledged not to try further to overthrow Castro and consented to take American nuclear missiles out of Turkey.
Castro created a one-party government to exercise dictatorial control over all aspects of the social, political, economic and cultural life of Cuba. He vastly expanded the country’s social services, extending them to all classes of society on an equal basis, intending to abolish social and legal discrimination. Free educational and health services were made available and every citizen was guaranteed employment. Castro also imposed land ceiling for personal holding and abolished private business. However, at the same time, he ordered to close down opposition newspapers, jailed thousands of political opponents and made no move toward elections.
Unfortunately, despite the sincere steps taken by Castro, the Cuban economy failed to achieve significant growth or to reduce its dependence on the export of cane sugar. In fact, the economic decision-making power was concentrated in a centralized bureaucracy headed by Castro, who proved to be an inept economic manager. With inefficient industries and a stagnant agriculture, Cuba became increasingly dependent on favourable Soviet trade policies to maintain its modest standard of living, in the face of the trade prohibition imposed by the United States. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was a surprising and sudden blow for Castro, which meant the end of generous Soviet subsidies to Cuba. Nevertheless, he tried to counter the resulting economic decline and shortages of consumer goods by allowing some restricted economic liberalization and free-market activities, while retaining tight control over the country’s political life.
Proclaimed as a Marxist-Leninist in late 1961, Castro supplied military and financial aid to various leftist guerilla movements in Latin America and Africa. To help the communistic Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, the Cuban forces fought in the Angolan civil war from 1975 to 1989 and in 1978, his troops assisted Ethiopia in repelling an invasion of Somalia. As a direct result of these actions, Castro had emerged as one of the leaders of nonaligned countries by the 1980s, despite his ties to the Soviet Union. Later, it was considered by many that, by helping those developed countries, Castro sought to spread the Cuban Revolution internationally and to establish his standing among the nonaligned, as well as the less-developed world.
In 1976, a new constitution in Cuba created a National Assembly and Castro became the President of that body’s State Council. However, he retained the post of the commander in chief of the armed forces, along with the post of the Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Cuba and thus, continued to exercise total control over the government. Despite his ties to the Soviet Union, Castro was willing to renew diplomatic relations with the United States and in 1980, took a significant step to release a flood of immigrants to the United States, when he opened the port of Mariel for five months and about 125,000 Cubans left the country for the States. After that, in late 1993, Castro’s daughter Alina, sought asylum in the United States, where she openly criticized her father’s rule in Cuba and following the incident, in the next year, for the first time in some 35 years, economic and social unrest led to huge antigovernment demonstrations in Cuba. Shortly thereafter, Castro lifted restrictions on immigration and thousands headed for the United States in the largest exodus since the 1980 Mariel freedom flotilla.
For the first time since the 1959 revolution, Castro conceded control, when on 31 July 2006, he passed power temporarily to his brother Raul, the minister of the armed forces and ranked second to Castro in all government and party posts, in order to recover from a surgery for a serious intestinal illness. However, after that, Castro was rarely seen in public and in February 2008, just days before the National Assembly was to vote for the country’s leader, Fidel Castro officially declared that he would not accept another term as president. In 2011, he also stepped down as the Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Cuba and succeeded by Raul.
According to the announcement on Cuban state television, Castro had died on the night of 25 November 2016, though his cause of death was not disclosed. After his cremation on 26th, a funeral procession travelled 900 km along the central highway of the island from Havana to Santiago de Cuba and after nine days of public mourning, his mortal remains were entombed in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.
Fidel Castro had a voracity for knowledge and elephantine memory, which helped him to speak for hours together on a variety of topics. He was known for his busy working hours and often used to go to bed at 3 or 4 am in the morning. Strangely enough, he preferred to meet the foreign diplomats in the early hours of the day, as he strongly believed that, during that time they would not like to talk much and he would take the opportunity to gain the upper hand in negotiations. He enjoyed reading, Earnest Hemingway was his favourite, but was uninterested in music. He loved sports and was a fitness freak.
Details of Castro's private life are scarce, as any such information is censored by the state media. He married Mirta Diaz-Balart in October 1948, and together they had a son. After their divorce in 1955, Mirta moved to Spain, though allegedly returned to Cuba in 2002, to live with her son. While he was married to Mirta, Castro had an affair with Natalia ‘Naty’ Revuella Clews, with whom he had a daughter, Alina Fernandez Revuella. In 1993, Alina left Cuba, disguised as a Spanish Tourist and sought asylum in the States. Apart from that, Castro often engaged in one-night stands with women, some of whom were specially selected for him while visiting foreign allies. He had a son and a daughter by two unnamed women.
Often described as the one of the most extraordinary political figures of the twentieth century and adversely criticized by various Western governments and human rights organizations, Fidel Castro was undoubtedly one of the most controversial political leaders of his era. However, the only thing that his admirers and critics are agreed upon was that, Castro was a towering figure in the world affairs, who transformed a small Caribbean island into a major force in world affairs. Despite its small size, Under Castro's leadership, Cuba became one of the best-educated countries with the best health care in the Third World as well as one of the most militarized states in Latin America.