February 19, 2008 / 8:26 AM / 12 years ago

TIMELINE: Key events in Fidel Castro's life

(Reuters) - The following are key events in the political life of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who retired on Tuesday after almost half a century at Cuba’s helm.

Cuba's President Fidel Castro (R) and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (L) gesture during an event in Havana in this April 3, 1989 file photo. Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro said on February 19, 2008 that he will not return to lead the country, retiring as head of state 49 years after he seized power in an armed revolution. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

August 13, 1926 - Fidel Castro Ruz born in eastern Cuban hamlet of Biran, son of a well-off Spanish-born landowner.

July 26, 1953 - Castro leads armed uprising against military dictator Fulgencio Batista, captured in failed attack on Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba.

May, 1955 - Castro, who stated “History will absolve me” at his trial, is given amnesty and leaves prison for Mexico.

December 2, 1956 - Castro and 81 other would-be revolutionaries land in Cuba on the yacht “Granma.”. Most are routed, but 12 survivors — including Castro, his brother Raul Castro and Argentine Ernesto “Che” Guevara — regroup in Sierra Maestra mountains where they launch a guerrilla war.

January 1, 1959 - Batista flees to Dominican Republic.

January 8, 1959 - Castro enters Havana after triumphal journey across Cuba. As supreme “Comandante” of the armed forces, he begins the political, economic and social transformation of Cuba, launching agrarian reform and nationalizing most foreign and local businesses.

Feb 13, 1959 - Castro named prime minister.

January 3, 1961 - U.S. breaks diplomatic ties with Havana.

April 16, 1961 - Castro declares his revolution socialist.

April 19, 1961 - Castro directs troops in defeat of invasion attempt by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles at Bay of Pigs.

February 7, 1962 - United States imposes full economic embargo.

October 1962 - Missile Crisis. Presence of Soviet warheads in Cuba provokes standoff between Moscow and Washington. Many fear nuclear war, but Soviet Union decides to withdraw missiles after President John F. Kennedy imposes naval blockade.

October 1965 - Castro founds new Cuban Communist Party and is named First Secretary.

1971-80 - Castro visits Chile, Panama and Nicaragua to support left-wing governments there.

1975 - Castro sends troops to Angola to help left-wing government fight South-African backed rebels.

1976 - Castro becomes president, ratified by newly-created National Assembly.

Summer, 1980 - Mariel boat-lift. Cuba allows exodus of 125,000 Cubans to United States, mostly via Mariel port.

1991 - Soviet Union’s collapse plunges Cuba into economic crisis.

August 14, 1993 - Castro government ends ban on use of U.S. dollars, one of a series of limited economic openings that government says are aimed at saving revolution.

August 5, 1994 - Hundreds of Havana residents riot in biggest anti-Castro disturbance since revolution.

August-September 1994 - More than 35,000 people leave Cuba in flimsy rafts and boats during summer crisis, prompting a migration agreement with the United States to allow a minimum of 20,000 legal entry visas to Cubans annually.

February 24, 1996 - Cuban MiG fighters shoot down two small U.S. planes in the Florida Straits belonging to Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue. Four crew members killed.

January 21-25, 1998 - Castro welcomes Pope John Paul in first visit by a pontiff to Cuba.

November 25, 1999-June 28, 2000 - Elian Gonzalez custody saga. Castro launches mass anti-U.S. campaign for the return of six-year-old Cuban boy rescued at sea off U.S. coast after surviving a shipwreck that kills his mother. Elian eventually returns to Cuba.

June 23, 2001 - Two hours into speech at public rally, Castro suffers brief fainting fit due to exhaustion and sun.

June 12, 2002 - Castro leads march by one million Cubans along Havana waterfront in campaign to defend socialist system in face of growing dissent and U.S. pressures.

June 26, 2002 - Cuba declares socialism “irrevocable” in constitutional amendment passed by National Assembly.

March 18, 2003 - Castro launches crackdown on dissidents: 75 pro-democracy activists and independent journalists jailed, prompting international criticism.

Oct 20, 2004 - Castro smashes left knee in fall after speech on steps of Che Guevara mausoleum in Santa Clara.

July 31, 2006 - Castro forced to hand over the reins of power to his brother Raul after undergoing emergency surgery to stop intestinal bleeding caused by undisclosed illness.

March 29, 2007 - Castro takes to writing prolific flow of articles on world issues, mainly attacks on the U.S. government.

Dec 17, 2007 - Castro hints he will not cling to power or block rise of younger leaders in message read on television.

Feb 19, 2008 - Almost 19 months since he last appeared in public, Castro said he would not return as head of state and government.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle in Havana, Editing by Michael Christie

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