TIMELINE: Fifty years of the Cuban revolution

(Reuters) - Cuba will celebrate this week the 50th anniversary of the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power on January 1, 1959.

Here are the dates of some key events for Cuba in the last half century:

* January 1, 1959 - U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista flees Cuba as Fidel Castro and his bearded revolutionaries seize control.

* January 3, 1961 - The United States breaks off diplomatic relations with Cuba in response to the nationalization of U.S.-owned properties.

* April 16, 1961 - Castro declares that his revolution is socialist. The next day, Cuban exiles backed by the CIA try to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, but are defeated.

* February 7, 1962 - The United States imposes a complete commercial embargo against Cuba that remains in place today.

* Oct 1962 - The United States and the Soviet Union have a showdown that almost touches off war after the U.S. discovers Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba. The tense confrontation ends with the Soviets removing the missiles and the U.S. agreeing never to invade Cuba and, secretly, pulling its missiles from Turkey.

* Nov 1975 - Fidel Castro sends troops to Angola to help its leftist government fight rebels backed by South Africa. It is the start of 15 years of war in which 300,000 Cubans will fight.

* April-Oct 1980 - Cuba allows 125,000 people to travel to the United States from the port of Mariel in what becomes known as the Mariel Boatlift.

* Dec 1991 - The Soviet Union, Cuba’s biggest benefactor, collapses, touching off an economic crisis from which the island has not fully recovered.

* Aug-Sept 1994 - More than 35,000 people leave Cuba in fragile boats, headed for the United States.

* Jan 1998 - Pope John Paul II makes the first papal visit to Cuba.

* July 31, 2006 - Fidel Castro provisionally turns over power to brother Raul Castro after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery.

* Feb 24, 2008 - Raul Castro is elected president by the National Assembly to formally replace ailing Fidel Castro.

Compiled by Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Kieran Murray