Fidel Castro, 90David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images
The death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who died Nov. 25, was met with conflicting emotions around the world, as some mourned the loss of the revolutionary and others celebrated the end of a brutal dictator. After ousting president-turned-dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Castro instituted communist policies and allied the country with the Soviet Union, which furthered Cuba’s contentious relations with the United States. A physically imposing man and a charismatic speaker, many Cubans saw him as a great anti-imperialist leader. Others, including vast numbers of Cuban exiles who defected to the U.S., reported poverty and brutality under his rule.
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Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born in Biran, Cuba, on Aug. 13, 1926, the son of a wealthy landowner from Spain. He was sent to Havana to attend a Jesuit school, eventually enrolling in the University of Havana’s law school. There his interest in radical politics grew, and he took part in rebellions in Colombia and the Dominican Republic. Upon his return to Cuba, he attempted his first coup against Batista, which failed. He was imprisoned, then exiled to Mexico.
There he met revolutionary Che Guevara, who traveled back to Cuba with the Castro brothers to take up their fight again. The morning he took power on Jan. 1, 1959, after speaking to the crowd through the night, Castro released a flock of white doves to symbolize peace for Cuba.
Fidel Castro in New York in 1955.
Castro shakes hands with then-Vice President Richard Nixon during a press reception in Washington in 1959.
Right away, Castro appalled Americans by having more than 500 members of Batista’s government tried and executed. The leader’s Communist ties made him an enemy to the U.S., which tried to remove him by several tactics, including the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. By the next year, the U.S. embargo against Cuba prohibited any trade between the countries. Castro aligned Cuba with the Soviet Union, bringing the Cold War -- and the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons -- to the West, which culminated in 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis.
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Castro expanded healthcare and education under the Communist Party, but also confiscated private land, quashed freedom of speech and imprisoned dissenters. Before 2103, Cuban citizens could not travel abroad without getting official permission, which was often denied. More than a million Cubans have defected from the island, making the dangerous journey to Miami by sea.
Cuban-Americans celebrate after Castro’s death in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.
Cubans paid their respects to Castro in Havana’s Jose Marti Memorial at the Plaza de la Revolucion on Nov. 28.
Castro, in failing health, stepped down in 2008; his brother Raúl took over as president, and Fidel faded from public, making rare appearances and statements. His death triggered nine days of public mourning, followed by a state funeral on Dec. 4, as international media dissected the darkest sides of Castro’s legacy. And soon, the name Castro will no longer be synonymous with Cuba’s leader: Raúl’s term ends in February 2018.