Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (August 13, 1926) is a Cuban politician and revolutionary who served as Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, and President from 1976 to 2008. Politically a Marxist-Leninist, he also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from 1961 until 2011. Under his administration the Republic of Cuba became a one-party socialist state; industry and businesses were nationalized, and state socialist reforms implemented throughout society. Internationally, Castro was the Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1979 to 1983 and from 2006 to 2008.
The illegitimate son of a wealthy farmer, Castro adopted leftist anti-imperialist politics while studying law at the University of Havana. After participating in rebellions against right-wing governments in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, he planned the overthrow of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista's military junta, launching a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. After a year's imprisonment, he traveled to Mexico where he formed a revolutionary group with Che Guevara and his brother Raúl Castro, referred to as the 26th of July Movement. Returning to Cuba, Castro led the Movement in a guerrilla war against Batista's forces from the Sierra Maestra.
As anti-Batista sentiment grew, Castro took a leading role in the Cuban Revolution which ousted the president in 1959, and brought his own assumption of military and political power. Alarmed by his friendly relations with the Soviet Union, the United States government unsuccessfully attempted to remove him, by assassination, economic blockade and counter-revolution, including the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. Countering these threats, Castro formed an economic and military alliance with the Soviets and allowed them to place nuclear weapons on the island, sparking the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
In 1961 Castro proclaimed the socialist nature of his administration, with Cuba becoming a one-party state under Communist Party rule; the first of its kind in the Western hemisphere. Adopting a Marxist-Leninist model of development, socialist reforms introducing central economic planning and expanding healthcare and education were accompanied by state control of the press and the suppression of internal dissent. Abroad, Castro supported foreign revolutionary groups in the hope of toppling world capitalism, backing the establishment of Marxist governments in Chile, Nicaragua, and Grenada, and also sending Cuban troops to aid leftist allies in the Yom Kippur War, Ethio-Somali War, and Angolan Civil War.
These actions, coupled with Castro's leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement, led to Cuba gaining a greater profile on the world stage and earned him great respect in the developing world. Following the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991, Castro led Cuba into its economic "Special Period", before forging alliances in the Latin American Pink Tide – namely with Hugo Chávez's Venezuela – and joining the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas in 2006. Due to failing health, in 2006 he transferred his responsibilities to Vice-President Raúl Castro, who formally assumed the presidency in 2008.
Castro is a controversial and divisive world figure, lauded by his supporters as a champion of socialism, anti-imperialism, humanitarianism, and environmentalism, but viewed by his critics as a dictator who has overseen multiple human-rights abuses, an exodus of more than one million Cubans, and the impoverishment of the country's economy. Through his actions and his writings he has significantly influenced the politics of various individuals and groups across the world.
Castro was born out of wedlock at his father's farm on August 13, 1926. Aged 6, Castro was sent to live with his teacher in Santiago de Cuba, before being baptized into the Roman Catholic Church aged 8. Castro to attended the La Salle boarding school in Santiago, where he regularly misbehaved, and so was sent to the privately funded, Jesuit-run Dolores School in Santiago. In 1945 he transferred to the more prestigious Jesuit-run El Colegio de Belén in Havana. Although Castro took an interest in history, geography and debating at Belén, he did not excel academically, instead devoting much of his time to playing sport.
In 1945, Castro began studying law at the University of Havana. Admitting he was "politically illiterate", he became embroiled in student activism, and the violent gangsterismo culture within the university. Passionate about anti-imperialism and opposing U.S. intervention in the Caribbean, he unsuccessfully campaigned for the presidency of the Federation of University Students (Federación Estudiantíl Universitaria - FEU) on a platform of "honesty, decency and justice". Castro became critical of the corruption and violence of President Ramón Grau's government, delivering a public speech on the subject in November 1946 that earned him a place on the front page of several newspapers.
In 1947, Castro joined the socialist Party of the Cuban People (Partido Ortodoxo), founded by veteran politician Eduardo Chibás. A charismatic figure, Chibás advocated social justice, honest government, and political freedom, while his party exposed corruption and demanded reform. Though Chibás lost the election, Castro remained committed to working on his behalf. Student violence escalated after Grau employed gang leaders as police officers, and Castro soon received a death threat urging him to leave the university; refusing, he began carrying a gun and surrounding himself with armed friends. In later years anti-Castro dissidents accused him of committing gang-related assassinations at the time, but these remain unproven.
Historian and journalist Richard Gott considered Castro to be "one of the most extraordinary political figures of the twentieth century", noting that he had become a "world hero in the mould of Garibaldi" to people throughout the developing world for his anti-imperialist efforts. Bourne described Castro as "an influential world leader" who commanded "great respect" from individuals of all political ideologies across the developing world.
He has been awarded a wide variety of awards and honors from foreign governments, and has been cited as an inspiration for foreign leaders like like Ahmed Ben Bella, and Nelson Mandela, who subsequently awarded him South Africa's highest civilian award for foreigners, the Order of Good Hope. In neighbouring Namibia, the country's capital city of Windhoek renamed one of its streets "Fidel Castro Street" after the Cuban revolutionary.
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