Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (Spanish: [fiˈðel ˈkastro]; born August 13, 1926) is a Cuban revolutionary and politician, having held the position of Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, and then President from 1976 to 2008. He also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from the party’s foundation in 1961 until 2011. Politically a Marxist-Leninist, under his administration the Republic of Cuba was converted into a one-party socialist state, with industry and business being nationalized under state ownership and socialist reforms implemented in all areas of society. On the international stage, he also served as the Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1979 to 1983 and 2006 to 2008.
Born the illegitimate son of a wealthy farmer, Castro became involved in leftist anti-imperialist politics while studying law at the University of Havana. Involving himself in armed rebellions against right-wing governments in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, he concluded that the U.S.-backed Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, who was widely seen as a dictator, had to be overthrown; to this end he led a failed armed attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. Imprisoned for a year, he traveled to Mexico, and with the aid of his brother Raúl Castro and friend Che Guevara, assembled a group of revolutionaries, the July 26 Movement. Returning with them to Cuba, he took a key role in the Cuban Revolution, leading a successful guerrilla war against Batista’s forces, overthrowing him in 1959. Castro subsequently became Commander in Chief of the armed forces and shortly thereafter became Prime Minister. The United States was alarmed by his involvement in the overthrow of Batista and relationship with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, implementing an economic blockade of the island. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower also ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to overthrow him, which they unsuccessfully tried through multiple assassination attempts and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. To counter this threat, Castro forged an economic and military alliance with the Soviet Union and allowed them to place nuclear weapons on the island, leading to the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Adopting Marxism-Leninism as his guiding ideology, in 1961 Castro proclaimed the socialist nature of the Cuban revolution, and in 1965 became First Secretary of the newly founded Communist Party, with all other parties being abolished. He then led the transformation of Cuba into a socialist republic, nationalizing industry, introducing free healthcare and education, and suppressing internal opposition. A keen internationalist, Castro introduced Cuban medical brigades who worked throughout the developing world, and aided foreign revolutionary socialist groups in the hope of toppling world capitalism, thereby involving Cuba in the Angolan Civil War and the Ogaden War between Ethiopia and Somalia. In 1976 he stepped down as Prime Minister to become President of both the Council of State and Council of Ministers. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Castro led Cuba into its economic “Special Period“, before taking the country into the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas in 2006 and forging alliances with other nations in the Latin American “Pink Tide“. Amidst failing health, in 2006 Castro transferred his responsibilities to Vice-President Raúl Castro, who was then elected President when Fidel stepped down in 2008.
Castro is a controversial and highly divisive world figure, being lauded as a champion of anti-imperialism, humanitarianism, socialism and environmentalism by his supporters, but his critics have accused him of being a dictator whose authoritarian administration has overseen multiple human rights abuses both at home and abroad. A prolific author on various topics, he has had a significant influence on the politics of various individuals and groups across the world, including senior leaders like Nelson Mandela, Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales.
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