Cuban communist politician, prime minister 1959–76 and president 1976–2008. He led the revolution that overthrew the right-wing regime of the dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. He improved education and health and raised the standard of living for most Cubans, but dealt harshly with dissenters. After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 and the loss of its chief political and economic support, Castro was forced to make reforms limiting state control over the economy, permitting foreign ownership in major areas of commerce and industry from 1995, and encouragin tourism. He also developed closer ties with regional allies, notably oil-rich Venezuela, under Hugo Chávez, supplying it with Cuban doctors in exchange for cheap oil from 2005. With his health deteriorating, in July 2006 Castro transferred his day-to-day duties to his younger brother, and first vice-president, Raúl, and in February 2008 declared he would not stand for a further term as president or remain as commander-in-chief. The National Assembly elected Raúl Castro as new president in February 2008, but Fidel remained First Secretary of the Communist Party.
Castro's administration introduced a centrally planned economy based on the production for export of sugar, tobacco, and nickel. He nationalized the property of wealthy Cubans, Americans, and other foreigners in 1960. This led to the cutting of relations by the USA, an economic embargo, and US attempts to subvert and overthrow Cuba's government. In April 1961 a Bay of Pigs invasion by US-equipped Cuban exiles was attempted but failed. In response, the USSR stationed ballistic missiles in Cuba, leading to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 in which the USA and USSR came close to war. The stand-off ended when the USSR agreed to withdraw its missiles on condition that the USA would no longer seek to overthrow the Cuban government.
Of wealthy parentage, Castro was educated at Jesuit schools and, after studying law at the University of Havana, gained a reputation through his work for poor clients. He joined the Cuban People's Party in 1947 and was a candidate for the 1952 parliamentary elections, which were cancelled by General Fulgencio Batista, who overthrew the government of President Carlos Prío Socarrás. Castro opposed the Batista dictatorship, and took part, with his brother Raúl, in an unsuccessful attack on the army barracks at Santiago de Cuba in 1953, but was arrested and imprisoned until 1955. Exiled to Mexico, Castro formed the 26th of July Movement, named after the date of his first attempted coup. In December 1956 he led a secret landing in Cuba in which all but 11 of his supporters were killed. He retreated to the Sierra Maestra to wage guerrilla war against Batistuta's forces. He built up an army of over 5,000 which forced Batista to flee the country on 31 December 1958 and he became prime minister in February 1959, with his brother Raúl as minister of the armed forces.
After the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, there were secret CIA plots to assassinate Castro. Castro, whose movement merged with the Communist Party in 1961 and which drew in development aid from the USSR, espoused Marxism-Leninism until, in 1974, he rejected Marx's formula ‘from each according to his ability and to each according to his need’ and decreed that each Cuban should ‘receive according to his work’. He improved education, housing, and health care for the majority of Cubans but his ruthless suppression of dissent or opposition to his one-party government lost him the support of the middle class, hundreds of thousands of whom fled the country.
After 1990, the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the USSR destroyed Cuba's economy – with four-fifths of its market disappearing and the loss of subsidised cheap fuel and food imports – and left Castro increasingly isolated. By 1994, the US embargo had also gravely weakened the country's economy, provoking increasing numbers of Cubans to leave the country as it entered what became known as the ‘special period’. Although Castro encouraged greater flexibility in the economy during the 1990s, relations between Cuba and the USA remained strained. Despite some improvement in relations in the late 1990s, the US embargo was not lifted. Tourism income and remittances from Cubans working abroad helped support the economy, but there were regular fuel and food shortages. In 1998 Castro, although not himself a practising Catholic, invited the Pope to make an unprecedented visit to Cuba.
In 2001, Hurricane Michelle caused largescale damage and the USA authorized the shipment of food to Cuba.
Castro (Ruz), Fidel Alejandro
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