Let It All Bleed Out
Fidel Castro Dead At 90
Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the charismatic icon of leftist revolution who thrust his Caribbean nation onto the world stage by provoking Cold War confrontation and defying U.S. policy through 11 administrations, has died. He was 90.
With his trademark fatigues and scruffy beard, Castro wore his defiance of Western capitalism like a badge of honor, accomplishing the unlikely feat of keeping communism alive in the Western Hemisphere two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Castro was both bellicose and swashbuckling, a personality forged by prison, exile and revolution. But after early successes in healthcare and education, his government lost much of its luster in later years, as it failed to create economic opportunities and authorities resorted to repression to maintain control.
His last years were spent quietly as his brother Raul took the helm. The younger Castro launched cautious reforms in an effort to steer Cuba out of poverty, and in July 2015 restored diplomatic relations with the United States after a half-century breach.
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born Aug. 13, 1926, in the village of Biran in eastern Cuba, out of wedlock to a prosperous Spanish immigrant, Angel Maria Bautista Castro Arguiz, and the servant he had taken as a mistress, Lina Ruz. His father had two older children by his first wife and seven with Ruz.
Wherever he went in Latin America he received a raving ovation. Why? Because he stood up to the United States, told us where to go, and got away with it.
Some biographers say Castro was haunted by the circumstances of his birth; never christened, he was teased by neighborhood children as “the Jew” and was barred from a Roman Catholic elementary school near home, forcing his exile to a boarding school.
Castro attended a Jesuit academy before studying law at the University of Havana, where he delved into both sports and politics. Tall and powerful, he was a champion basketball player and equally able in baseball, and he was also said to possess prodigious powers of intellect and memory.
Resentful of U.S. backing of corrupt leaders and ownership of exploitative factories and plantations in Cuba, Castro began plotting revolution while still a student, and he found solidarity with leftist student activists throughout the region.
In 1948, Castro married philosophy student Mirta Diaz-Balart; on Sept. 1, 1949, she gave birth to a son named for his father but known throughout his life as Fidelito — little Fidel. Castro’s wife divorced him a few years later while he was in prison, and he acknowledged in interviews having fathered as many as 15 children.
The former leader, long criticized for abusing human rights, wrote: "I believe that the United States' president's speech lacked stature when he visited Japan, and it lacked an apology for the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in Hiroshima, in spite of the fact that they knew the effects of the bomb."
To the end, Castro clung to his belief that his revolution had succeeded in lifting a nation above self-interest and material obsessions.
His words to the court that tried him for the Moncada attack more than half a century ago echoed throughout his long career and late-night monologues. “Judgment is spoken by the eternal court of history,” Castro said then of his actions. “Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me.”
Besides Raul, his survivors include his longtime partner, Dalia Soto del Valle, son Fidelito, former mistress Naty Revuelta, two daughters and six other sons — five born of Soto del Valle.