Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary who defied United States for more than 50 years, dies at 90

Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90, Cuban state television has announced, ending an era for the country and Latin America.

“The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution died at 22:29 hours this evening,” his brother, President Raul Castro, his brother, announced with a shaking voice on national television.

For five decades, he worked to turn the island nation into a place of equality and social justice. His government produced tens of thousands of doctors and teachers and some of the lowest infant mortality and illiteracy rates in the Western hemisphere.

Fidel Castro was one of the most emblematic world leaders of the 20th century. Alongside Che Guevara he swept to power in a revolution in 1959, ousting the pro-US regime.

“Fidel is the father of all Cubans,” said Euxiquio Del Toro, 57, a farmer in Granma province.

His “struggle for good and equality for all” makes him “one of the great ones. Fidel is like a myth. He’s like Che,” said Del Toro, referring to the late Argentinean revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

The cigar-smoking, bearded Cuban leader’s influence lasted over the terms of 11 U.S. presidents. At the end of 2014, President Barack Obama moved to normalize relations between the two countries, at last giving Cubans a chance to participate economically with the U.S.

Memorable photograph of Cuban Revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and the legendary guerrilla Ernesto Che Guevara

Memorable photograph of Cuban Revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and the legendary guerrilla Ernesto Che Guevara

Profile: Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro Ruz was born Aug. 13, 1926, in eastern Cuba’s sugar country, where his Spanish immigrant father worked first recruiting labor for U.S. sugar companies and later built up a prosperous plantation of his own.

Castro, one of eight children, went to Catholic elementary school and graduated from Belen, a prep school in Havana run by Jesuit priests.

He excelled in both academics and sports and was voted Belen’s best athlete in 1944. His preferred sport: the thoroughly American game of baseball. He’s said to have dreamed once of becoming a major league player in the USA.

Mr. Castro’s university days earned him the image of rabble-rouser and seemed to support the view that he had had Communist leanings all along. “I had entered into contact with Marxist literature,” Mr. Castro said. “At that time, there were some Communist students at the University of Havana, and I had friendly relations with them, but I was not in the Socialist Youth, I was not a militant in the Communist Party.”

Legacy of the revolutionary Fidel Castro

“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.

In 1952, Fulgencio Batista staged a military coup that established a military dictatorship and propelled Castro into the role of revolutionary.

His life as a rebel began in 1953 with a reckless attack on the Moncada military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. The assault failed and many of Castro’s men were killed or captured. Castro was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

On trial, Castro delivered a speech that became known by its final line.

“I know that imprisonment will be harder for me than it has ever been for anyone, filled with cowardly threats and hideous cruelty,” Castro told the court. “But I do not fear prison, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of 70 of my comrades.

“Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”