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Fidel Castro dies at 90

By The Assam Tribune

HAVANA, Nov 26 - Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to an improbable victory in the island nation, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 US Presidents during his half-century rule, has died at age 90.

With a shaking voice, his younger brother, Raul Castro, announced on state television that his brother died at 10.29 pm (local time) on Friday night. He ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: �Toward victory, always!�

Declaring a nine-day public mourning, Cuba�s government announced that Castro�s ashes would be interred on December 4 in the eastern city of Santiago that was the birthplace of his revolution.

That will follow more than a week of honours, including a nearly nationwide caravan retracing, in reverse, his tour from Santiago to Havana with the triumph of the revolution in 1959.

Castro�s reign over the island nation, 90 miles from Florida, was marked by the US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling US trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill-health forced him to formally hand over power to Raul.

Castro overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, exile in Mexico and a disastrous start to his rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana in January 1959 to become, at age 32, the youngest leader in Latin America. For decades, he served as an inspiration and source of support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa.

His commitment to socialism was unwavering, though his power finally began to fade in mid-2006 when a gastrointestinal ailment forced him to hand over the presidency to Raul in 2008, provisionally at first and then permanently.

He survived long enough to see Raul Castro negotiate an opening with US President Barack Obama on December 17, 2014, when Washington and Havana announced they would move to restore diplomatic ties for the first time since they were severed in 1961. He cautiously blessed the historic deal with his lifelong enemy in a letter published after a month-long silence.

Fidel Castro Ruz was born on August 13, 1926, in eastern Cuba�s sugar country, where his Spanish immigrant father worked first recruiting labour for US sugar companies and later built up a prosperous plantation of his own.

Castro attended Jesuit schools, then the University of Havana, where he received law and social science degrees. His life as a rebel began in 1953 with a reckless attack on the Moncada military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. Most of his comrades were killed and Fidel and his brother Raul went to prison.

Fidel turned his trial defence into a manifesto that he smuggled out of jail, famously declaring, �History will absolve me.� Freed under a pardon, Castro fled to Mexico and organised a rebel band that returned in 1956, sailing across the Gulf of Mexico to Cuba on a yacht named Granma. After losing most of his group in a bungled landing, he rallied support in Cuba�s eastern Sierra Maestra mountains.

Three years later, tens of thousands spilled into the streets of Havana to celebrate Batista�s downfall and catch a glimpse of Castro as his rebel caravan arrived in the capital on January 8, 1959. The US was among the first to formally recognise his government, cautiously trusting Castro�s early assurances that he merely wanted to restore democracy, not install socialism.

As Castro moved into the Soviet bloc, Washington began working to oust him, cutting US purchases of sugar, the island�s economic mainstay. Castro, in turn, confiscated USD 1 billion in US assets. The American government imposed a trade embargo, banning virtually all US exports to the island nation except for food and medicine, and it severed diplomatic ties on January 3, 1961.

The biggest crisis of the Cold War between Washington and Moscow exploded on October 22, 1962, when President John F Kennedy announced there were Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and imposed a naval blockade of the island. Humankind held its breath, and after a tense week of diplomacy, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev removed them. Never had the world felt so close to nuclear war.

Castro exported revolution to Latin American countries in the 1960s, and dispatched Cuban troops to Africa to fight Western-backed regimes in the 1970s. Over the decades, he sent Cuban doctors abroad to tend to the poor, and gave sanctuary to fugitive Black Panther leaders from the US.

But the collapse of the Soviet bloc ended billions in preferential trade and subsidies for Cuba, sending its economy into a tailspin. Castro briefly experimented with an opening to foreign capitalists and limited private enterprise.

As the end of the Cold War eased global tensions, many Latin American and European countries re-established relations with Cuba. Aided by a tourism boom, the economy slowly recovered and Castro steadily reasserted government control, stifling much of the limited free enterprise tolerated during harder times.

By the time Castro resigned 49 years after his triumphant arrival in Havana, he was the world�s longest ruling head of government, aside from monarchs. In retirement, Castro voiced unwavering support as Raul slowly but deliberately enacted sweeping changes to the Marxist system he had built. � AP

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