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El Commandante: a look back on the life of Fidel Castro

Saturday, November 26, 2016 - 04:12

Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro, who defied U.S. efforts to topple him for five decades, has died at the age of 90. Pavithra George looks back on his life.

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Cuba's leader Fidel Castro presided for almost 50 years as the charismatic leader of the Caribbean's largest island. He lived to see a day many thought would never come - the re-opening of the American embassy in Havana for the first time in 54 years followed by the historic visit of U.S. President Barack Obama- after decades of hostility between the two Cold War rivals. The seeds for that hostility were sown on January 1, 1959, when Castro first grabbed international attention by leading a guerilla campaign, ousting right wing Cuban dictator Flugencio Batista. After claiming victory in Havana, Castro launched a political, social and economic revolution - transforming a country once known as the "brothel of the Caribbean" into a third world power - but one criticized for denying dissent. Castro's strong anti-U.S. stance made him the target of several attempts by Washington to topple him. These included an invasion attempt at Cuba's southern Bay of Pigs in 1961 by more than 1,000 Cuban exiles trained and financed by the CIA. In 1962 the Cuban Missile Crisis sparked a new round of hostilities after Castro allowed the Soviet Union to build a missile base in Cuba. For two weeks, at the height of the Cold War, the world held its breath as US President John F Kennedy faced off with Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev. Tensions finally eased when Kruschev announced he would dismantle the missile installations in Cuba. When the U.S. cut diplomatic ties with Havana, Castro forged a successful relationship with Moscow that helped Cuba over three decades. But the Soviet collapse in 1991 hit Cuba hard. Angry Cubans took to the streets to protest against shortages and power cuts. Castro responded to the crisis, reluctantly allowing limited private enterprise and legalizing the U.S. dollar. But his arch-enemy continued to be the United States. Tensions rose again in 1999 when then five-year old Cuban castaway Elian Gonzales became the subject of an international custody battle in Miami. Castro launched an international campaign for Gonzales' return to his father in Cuba, while other relatives fought to keep him in the United States, and in 2000 the young boy was reunited with his father in Cuba. Concerns rose over Castro's health in 2001 after he fainted at a mass rally, and in 2006 the long-time dictator, suffering from intestinal problems, handed over power to his brother Raul Castro. His public appearances reduced after his illness, but highly publicized visits with Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez silenced any rumors that the dictator had died. In 2014 Castro was photographed with Vladimir Putin, during the Russian leader's visit to Havana in July. And in September 2015 he was seen meeting with Pope Francis during the pontiff's historic trip to the island nation. The two men are said to have discussed religion and world affairs. Castro's legacy is likely to be debated by historians. He was hailed by admirers for promoting social reform and stamping a small country's mark on the world, but reviled by critics as a dictator who forced communism on a reluctant Cuba. Few, however, doubt Castro's political achievement in holding power since 1959 -- despite the opposition of 10 U.S. presidencies.

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El Commandante: a look back on the life of Fidel Castro

Saturday, November 26, 2016 - 04:12