Cuba’s historic leader, Fidel Castro, dies
Fidel Castro, who led his bearded rebels to victorious revolution in 1959, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half-century of rule in Cuba, has died at age 90.
With a shaking voice, President Raul Castro said on state television that his older brother died Nov. 25. He ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: "Toward victory, always!"
Castro's reign over the island nation 90 miles from Florida was marked by the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Castro, who outlasted a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died 10 years after a life-threatening illness led him to turn over power to his brother.
Castro overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, exile in Mexico and a disastrous start to his rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana in January 1959 to become, at age 32, the youngest leader in Latin America. For decades he was a source of inspiration and support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa, even as Cubans who fled to exile loathed him with equal measure.
His commitment to socialism was unwavering, though his power finally began to fade in mid-2006 when a gastrointestinal ailment forced him to hand over the presidency to Raul in 2008. Castro's defiant image lingered long after he gave up his trademark Cohiba cigars for health reasons and his tall frame grew stooped.
"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.
He survived long enough to see his brother negotiate an opening with U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 17, 2014, when Washington and Havana announced they would move to restore diplomatic ties for the first time since they were severed in 1961. He cautiously blessed the historic deal with his lifelong enemy in a letter published after a month-long silence. Obama made a historic visit to Havana in March 2016.
Raul has announced plans to retire as president when his current term ends on Feb. 24, 2018. Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, a relatively younger leader, is seen as a possible successor, although Raul has said he would stay on as head of the Communist Party.
Carlos Rodriguez, 15, was sitting in Havana's Miramar neighborhood when he heard that Fidel Castro had died.
"Fidel? Fidel?" he said, slapping his head in shock. "That's not what I was expecting. One always thought that he would last forever. It doesn't seem true."
"It's a tragedy," said 22-year-old nurse Dayan Montalvo. "We all grew up with him. I feel really hurt by the news that we just heard."
But the news cheered the community of Cuban exiles in Florida who had fled Castro's government. Thousands gathered in the streets in Miami's Little Havana to whoop, wave Cuban flags, and bang on pots with spoons. Cars honked horns, and police blocked off streets.
Alex Ferran, 21, headed toward the gathering. He was beside himself with excitement.
"We're here to celebrate. This is history in the making," Ferran said. "This is insane, dude. Someone died and there's a parade. This could only happen here."
Obama said that the United States extended "a hand of friendship to the Cuban people" and that "history will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him."
Obama said that in the coming days, Cubans "will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner" in America.
President-elect Donald Trump called Castro "a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades." He said he hoped the death would clear the way "toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve."
The biggest crisis of the Cold War between Washington and Moscow exploded on Oct. 22, 1962, when President John F. Kennedy announced there were Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and imposed a naval blockade of the island. Humankind held its breath, and after a tense week of diplomacy, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev removed them. Never had the world felt so close to nuclear war.
By the time Castro resigned 49 years after his triumphant arrival in Havana, he was the world's longest ruling head of government, aside from monarchs.
Cuba's government announced that Castro's ashes would be interred on Dec. 4 in the eastern city of Santiago that was a birthplace of his revolution. That will follow more than a week of honors, including a nearly nationwide caravan retracing, in reverse, his tour from Santiago to Havana with the triumph of the revolution in 1959.