Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was a revolutionary & politician who was Prime Minister of Cuba (1959-76) & President (1976-2008). He also served as the Commander in Chief of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces (1959-2008) & as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (1961-2011). Politically a Marxist-Leninist, under his administration the Republic of Cuba became a one-party socialist state. Industry & businesses were nationalized, & socialist reforms implemented in all areas of society. Internationally, Castro was also Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement (1979-83 & 2006-08).
Illegitimate son of a wealthy farmer, Castro adopted leftist anti-imperialist politics while studying law at the University of Havana. After participating in rebellions against right-wing governments in the Dominican Republic & Colombia, he planned the overthrow of the USA-backed military junta of Cuban president Fulgencio Batista, & served a year’s imprisonment in 1953 after a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks. On release he went to Mexico, where he formed a revolutionary group with his brother Raúl & friend Dr. Che Guevara, the 26th of July Movement. Returning to Cuba, he led the revolution which ousted Batista in 1959, & brought his own assumption of military & political power. Alarmed by his revolutionary credentials & cordial relations with the USSR, the Eisenhower & Kennedy administrations unsuccessfully attempted to remove him by economic blockade, assassination & counter-revolution, including the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. Countering these threats, Castro formed an economic & military alliance with the Soviets, & allowed them to place nuclear weapons on the island, sparking the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
In 1961 Castro proclaimed the socialist nature of his administration, with Cuba becoming a one-party state under Communist Party rule; the first of its kind in the western hemisphere. Socialist reforms introducing central economic planning & expanding healthcare & education were accompanied by state control of the press & suppression of internal dissent. Abroad, Castro supported foreign revolutionary groups in the hope of toppling world capitalism, sending Cuban troops to fight in the Yom Kippur War, Ogaden War & Angolan Civil War. Following the USSR’s dissolution in 1991, Castro led Cuba into its economic “Special Period”, before forging alliances in the Latin American Pink Tide–-namely with Hugo Chávez’ Venezuela–-& joining the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas in 2006. Due to failing health, in 2006 he transferred his responsibilities to Vice-President Raúl Castro, who assumed the presidency in 2008.
Castro was a controversial & divisive world figure, lauded by his supporters as a champion of socialism, anti-imperialism, humanitarianism & environmentalism, viewed by his critics as a dictator who’s overseen multiple human-rights abuses, an exodus of over a million Cubans & the impoverishment of the country’s economy. Thrugh his actions & writings he significantly influenced the politics of various individuals & groups across the world.