Fidel Castro was born Aug. 13, 1926, near the town of Biran in the eastern portion of Cuba. His father Angel Castro y Argiz was a wealthy sugar plantation owner that had been born into a poor peasant family in Spain. His mother Lina Ruz Gonzalez was a maid in the elder Castro’s household who gave birth to him out of wedlock.
Castro holds the record for the longest speech ever delivered to the United Nations: 4 hours and 29 minutes, on Sept. 26, 1960, according to the U.N. website. One of his longest speeches on record lasted 7 hours and 30 minutes on Feb. 24, 1998, after the national assembly re-elected him to a five-year term as president.
Castro claimed he survived 634 attempts or plots to assassinate him, mainly masterminded by the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S.-based exile organizations. They may have included poison pills, a toxic cigar, exploding mollusks, and a chemically tainted diving suit. Another alleged plan involved giving him powder that would make his beard fall out and so undermine his popularity.
Fidel Castro expanded education and healthcare to most of the Cuban people, while further eroding democratic freedoms and eliminating any political opposition through iron-fisted tactics, including executions, imprisonment, and exile.
Cuba did not develop as rapidly as Castro had envisioned, and suffered numerous economic setbacks over the years, particularly with the collapse of the Soviet Union toward the end of the ‘80s.
Prior to that, Fidel Castro had strengthened ties with other leftist government in Latin America and around the world, supporting socialist movements with military and economic aid.
Castro remained the target of repeated assassination attempts by both the CIA and Cuban dissidents, his persistent survival adding to the aura of his perceived invulnerability.
Despite the plots, a U.S.-backed exile invasion at the Bay of Pigs and five decades of economic sanctions, Castro outlasted nine U.S. presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton, stepping down while George W. Bush was in office.
Fidel Castro used to chomp on Cuban cigars but gave them up in 1985. Years later he summed up the harm of smoking tobacco by saying: “The best thing you can do with this box of cigars is give them to your enemy.”
Time Magazine in 2012 named Fidel Castro as one of the 100 most influential personalities of all time.
Castro had nine children from five women. His eldest son Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, who is the image of his father and is known as Fidelito, is a Soviet-trained nuclear scientist born in 1949 out of his brief marriage to Mirta Diaz-Balart. Daughter Alina Fernandez, the result of an affair with a Havana socialite when Castro was underground in the 1950s, escaped from Cuba disguised as a tourist in 1993 and is a vocal critic. Fidel Castro has five sons with his common-law wife since the 1960s, Dalia Soto del Valle. He also has a son and a daughter born to two other women with whom he had affairs before coming to power.
Cuban revolutionary and leader Fidel Castro died late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, at the age of 90, and his cremation is to be held Saturday. The man who held his own against the United States for five decades lived a remarkable life.
How heads of state from around the world are reacting to Fidel Castro’s death?
Fidel Castro is dead!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 26, 2016
President Barack Obama said that “at this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” while President-elect Donald Trump simply confirmed the news.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Cuban strongman an “inspiring example for many countries” and a “symbol of an era” in a telegram he sent to the former leader’s brother and successor, Raul Castro.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa remarked how “a great has left us,” while Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro called Castro “an example of the fight for all the people in the world.”
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) November 26, 2016
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales said Castro “left us a legacy of having fought for the integration of the world’s peoples,” while El Salvador’s leader Salvador Sanchez called him the country’s “eternal friend.”
Pope Francis described Castro’s death as “sad news.” He said he was grieving and praying for Castro’s “repose.”