Fidel Castro

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Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro
Term of office December 21976 – 
Preceded by Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado
Succeeded by Incumbent
Date of birth August 13, 1926
Place of birth Birán, Holguín Province, Cuba
Spouse Dalia Soto1
Political party Communist Party

Fidel Castro Ruz (born August 13, 1926) has ruled Cuba since 1959, when, leading the 26th of July Movement, he overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista, and transformed Cuba into the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere.

Castro first attracted attention in Cuban political life through his student activism; his outspoken nationalism and radical critique of Batista and US corporate and political influence in Cuba brought a receptive following, criticism, and attention from the authorities. Later, his attacks on the Moncada Barracks, subsequent exile, and eventual guerrilla invasion of Cuba in December 1956 cemented his fame and notoriety worldwide. Since his ascension to power in 1959, Castro has become only more controversial and high-profile, inciting much condemnation, adulation, and debate.

Internationally, his leadership has been marked by tensions with the United States (peaking in the Cuban Missile Crisis) and a close partnership with the Soviet Union. Domestically, he has overseen the implementation of radical land reform followed by the collectivization of agriculture, nationalization of leading Cuban industries, and social programs that instituted universal healthcare and expanded public education. Castro's government initially won widespread support among Cubans but alienated many as the new government nationalized industries, suppressed all opposition parties, and restricted emigration.

In the event of sickness or death, Castro's leadership posts would legally be assumed by Vice President Raúl Castro, his brother.


Early life

University student Fidel Castro (third from the left, standing) talking to fellow students during a protest on November 11, 1947.
University student Fidel Castro (third from the left, standing) talking to fellow students during a protest on November 11, 1947.

Castro was born into a wealthy farming family in Birán, near Mayarí, Holguín Province (formerly Oriente Province) and not far from the birthplace of Fulgencio Batista, the man whose government he was to overthrow. The son of Ángel Castro y Argiz (an immigrant from Galicia, Spain) and his cook, Lina Ruz González, Castro has two brothers: Ramón, who has a position in the agriculture department and is said to run the family estates; and half-brother Raúl, the Cuban defense minister. Castro also has at least one sibling, his sister Juanita, living in exile.

Castro was educated at Jesuit schools in Cuba, including the La Salle private school in Santiago de Cuba and the Colegio Belén in Havana, graduating in 1945. He then enrolled at the University of Havana to study law. Here he joined the Union Insurreccional Revolucionaria (UIR, the Insurrectional Revolutionary Union) and became involved in political disputes that were often violent and sometimes murderous. In 1947 he joined the Partido Ortodoxo (Orthodox Party, also known as the Partido del Pueblo Cubano, Party of the Cuban People) and its campaign to expose government corruption and demand reform. In the summer of 1947, Castro, along with Rolando Masferrer, became part of the Caribbean Legion[1] that attempted to travel to the Dominican Republic and overthrow its government [2]. The attempt failed, however, when the Cuban police intervened. Because of this and his other activities, Castro became known through local radio and the Alerta newspaper.

In 1948, Castro traveled to Bogotá in Colombia as a delegate of the Federación Estudiantil Universitaria (FEU, the Cuban University Student Federation) for the ninth Pan-American Union Conference. During his visit, however, the Colombian Liberal Party leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitán was assassinated and Castro, suspected of collaborating with the Colombian Communist Party in the killing, had to flee the country [3]. The plane with which he made his escape was provided by the Cuban president, Carlos Prío Socarrás, even though Castro opposed Prío.

That same year, 1948, Castro married Mirta Díaz Balart, a philosophy student from another wealthy Cuban family, with whom he later had a son, Fidelito Castro. Amongst the wedding presents received was a substantial gift (US$500) from Batista, by then a general in the Cuban army.

In 1950 Castro graduated and began practising law in a small partnership, defending mostly poor people. He had by now become known for his nationalist views and his opposition to the United States' influence in Cuba. In 1951, after the Partido Ortodoxo's founder Eduardo Chibás committed suicide, Castro claimed leadership of the party and prepared to stand for parliament the following year. However, a coup d'état led by Batista on March 10, 1952 overthrew Socarrás' government and the elections were cancelled. Castro broke away from the Partido Ortodoxo and, in court, charged Batista with violating the Cuban constitution. His petition was refused.

Attack on Moncada Barracks

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro

Castro responded to Batista's coup by organizing an armed attack on the Moncada Barracks, Batista's largest garrison outside Havana, on July 26, 1953. The Céspedes garrison in Bayamo was also attacked." The attack proved unsuccessful and more than sixty of the one-hundred and thirty-five militants involved were killed.

Castro and other surviving members of his group managed to escape to the Sierra Maestra. On August 1, after gaining assurances via the Archbishop of Santiago, Enrique Pérez Serrantes, that they would not be killed or tortured and would receive a fair trial, Castro and his group surrendered.

During the subsequent trial in August to October 1953, Castro delivered La historia me absolverá (History Will Absolve Me, complete translation) as his closing speech, in which he defended his actions and declared his political views. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

While he was in prison, Mirta Díaz-Balart divorced Castro and enemies tried to poison him. Having served less than two years, however, he was released in May 1955 thanks to a general amnesty from a confident Batista. He went into exile in Mexico on July 7.

Some historians claim that although Castro's group took part in the Moncada Barracks attack, Castro himself was not involved in the fighting. They claim that Castro and his inner circle hid at a nearby location, away from the bloodshed. These claims, however, are disputed. [4] It has also been claimed that Castro's unit targeted soldiers who were sleeping or incapacitated in the barracks' infirmary. This claim has been countered as an attempt by Castro's enemies to discredit him. In La historia me absolverá, Castro said:

Everyone had instructions, first of all, to be humane in the struggle... From the beginning we took numerous prisoners - nearly twenty... Those soldiers testified before the court and without exception they all acknowledged that we treated them with absolute respect.... In line with this, I want to give my heartfelt thanks to the prosecutor for one thing in the trial of my comrades: when he made his report he was fair enough to acknowledge as an incontestable fact that we maintained a high spirit of chivalry throughout the struggle. [5]

Life as a guerilla

Raúl Castro on the left, Fidel Castro, in the middle, during the revolution.
Raúl Castro on the left, Fidel Castro, in the middle, during the revolution.

Once in Mexico, Castro reunited with other exiles and founded the 26th of July Movement. They went to the United States, where they gathered funds from Cubans living in that country. Medical doctor Ernesto "Che" Guevara joined the group in Mexico. On November 26, 1956 they returned to Cuba, sailing from Tuxpan to Cuba on the 60-ft pleasure yacht Granma.

They landed in Los Cayuelos near the eastern city of Manzanillo on December 2, 1956. They missed their scheduled arrival by two days. On November 30th, another group of Castro's supporters, wearing olive green uniforms and the 26th of July Movement's red & black insignias, staged a street revolt in Santiago, organized by Frank Pais. Only between twelve and sixteen of the original eighty-two men of the Granma group survived encounters with the Cuban army, and fled to the Sierra Maestra mountains, aided by a group that included Celia Sanchez Manduley and bandit Cresencio Perez's relatives. The survivors, who included Che Guevara, Raúl Castro, and Camilo Cienfuegos, reformed into the José Martí column under Castro's command. Castro's movement gained popular support and grew to over eight hundred men. In mid-1957 Castro gave Che Guevara command of a second column. A journalist Herbert Matthews from the New York Times came to interview him in the Sierra Maestra, attracting interest to his cause in the United States. This was followed up by a television crew. His command of English enabled him to appeal directly to a US audience.


On May 24, 1958, Batista launched seventeen battalions (about 10,000 soldiers) against Castro and other anti-government groups in Operación Verano. Despite being heavily outnumbered, Castro's forces scored a series of victories, in part aided by desertion from Batista's army. Whilst subsequent pro-Castro Cuban sources emphasize Castro and his group's role in these battles, other groups and leaders were involved, such as escopeteros (poorly-armed irregulars). It is also claimed that Guevara received excessive credit, when in one instance it is alleged he abandoned another anti-Batista leader to fight to his death. [6] [7]

As Operación Verano faltered, Castro ordered two columns under Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos to invade central Cuba, pushing out onto the Cauto Plains. In December 1958, Guevara and Cienfuegos' columns joined with other anti-Batista forces already in the central mountains, occupied several towns and then attacked Santa Clara, the capital of the Las Villas province. Guevara derailed an armored train which Batista had sent to aid his troops trapped inside the city and Batista's forces then crumbled. Fearing the worst, Batista and president-elect Carlos Rivero Agüero fled Cuba on the night of December 31, 1958, initially to the Dominican Republic and then to Francisco Franco's Spain.

Early years in power

On January 1, 1959, Castro's forces entered Havana and on January 5 the liberal law professor José Miró Cardona created a new government with himself as prime minister and Manuel Urrutia Lleó as president. On January 8 Castro himself arrived in Havana and assumed the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. In February, however, Miró resigned and Castro assumed his role; and in July, Urrutia resigned and was replaced by Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, a lawyer more sympathetic to Castro's ideology.

Initially the United States was quick to recognize the new government. On April 15 Castro went on a famous twelve day unofficial tour of the US, where he met Malcolm X, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru while staying in a cheap hotel in Harlem - an example of his tendency to 'mix with the people', as he later also did in Panamá, where he used the service entrance of the hotel more than the front door. He subsequently visited the White House and met with Vice President Richard Nixon. Castro's economic policies had caused some concerns in Washington that Castro was a Communist with an allegiance to the Soviet Union. Supposedly, President Dwight D. Eisenhower snubbed Castro, giving the excuse that he was playing golf, and left Nixon to speak to him. Following the meeting, Nixon remarked that Castro was "naïve" but not necessarily a communist. Castro spent two days in Canada, initiating a friendship with future Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Fidel and Che.
Fidel and Che.

Friction with the US soon developed when the new government began expropriating property owned by major US corporations (United Fruit in particular), proposing compensation based on property tax valuations which, for many years, the same companies had managed to keep artificially low. In May, following Eisenhower's ban on the importation of Cuban sugar into the US, Cuba nationalized some $850 million worth of US property and businesses. Castro consolidated control of the nation by nationalizing industry, expropriating property owned by Cubans and non-Cubans alike, collectivizing agriculture, and enacting policies which he claimed would benefit the population. These policies alienated many former supporters of the revolution among the Cuban middle and upper-classes, who made up roughly half of the Cuban population. 7% later migrated to the US, forming a vocal anti-Castro community in Miami, Florida.

In February 1960 Cuba signed an agreement to buy oil from the USSR. When the US-owned refineries in Cuba refused to process the oil, they were expropriated, and the United States broke off diplomatic relations with the Castro government soon afterwards. To the concern of the Eisenhower administration, Cuba began to establish closer ties with the Soviet Union. A variety of pacts were signed between Castro and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, allowing Cuba to receive large amounts of economic and military aid from them.

Bay of Pigs

Castro, lower right, watches from a tank near Playa Giron during the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Castro, lower right, watches from a tank near Playa Giron during the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Main article: Bay of Pigs Invasion

On April 15, 1961, the day after Castro described his revolution as socialist, four Cuban airfields were bombed by A-26s bearing false Cuban markings. These bombing runs were the beginning stages of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The United States staged an unsuccessful attack on Cuba on 17 April 1961. Assault Brigade 2506, a force of about 1,400 Cuban exiles, financed and trained by the Central Intelligence Agency, and commanded by CIA operatives Grayston Lynch and William Robertson, landed south of Havana, at Playa Girón on the Bay of Pigs. The CIA assumed that the invasion would spark a popular uprising against Castro; the operation itself was expected by Castro, however, and in anticipation the government rounded up thousands of anti-Castro Cubans and imprisoned them, most under threat of death should the invasion succeed. Part of the invasion force that made it ashore was captured, while President Kennedy withdrew support for the invasion at the last minute, by cancelling several bombing sorties that could have crippled the entire Cuban airforce. The cancellation also prevented US Marines waiting off the coast from landing in support of the Cuban exiles. Two US supplied support ships, the Houston and the Río Escondido, were sunk by Cuban propeller-driven aircraft. Nine people were executed in connection with this action while Castro attributed the failure of the invasion to his leadership.

In a nationally broadcast speech on December 2, Castro declared that he was a Marxist-Leninist and that Cuba was going to adopt Communism. On February 7, 1962, the US imposed an embargo against Cuba, which included a general travel ban for American tourists.

Cuban Missile Crisis

Main article: Cuban Missile Crisis

Tensions between Castro and US heightened during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which nearly brought the USSR and the US to direct confrontation. Khrushchev conceived the idea of placing missiles in Cuba as a deterrent to a US invasion. After consultations with his military advisors, he met with a Cuban delegation led by Raúl Castro in July in order to work out the specifics. It was agreed to deploy Soviet R-12 MRBMs on Cuban soil; however, American Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance discovered the construction of the missile installations on 15 October 1962 before the weapons had actually been deployed. The US government viewed the installation of Soviet nuclear weapons 90 miles south of Miami as an aggressive act and a threat to US security. As a result, the US publicly announced its discovery on 22 October 1962, and implemented a quarantine around Cuba that would actively intercept and search any vessels heading for the island.

In a personal letter to Khrushchev written on 27 October 1962, Castro urged Khrushchev to launch a nuclear first strike against the United States if Cuba were invaded, but Khrushchev rejected any first strike response (pdf). Soviet field commanders in Cuba were, however, authorized to use tactical nuclear weapons if attacked by the United States. Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for a US commitment not to invade Cuba and an understanding that the US would remove American MRBMs targeting the Soviet Union from Turkey and Italy.

Relations with the outside world

Fidel Castro embracing Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
Fidel Castro embracing Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Following initial US hostility, the establishment of diplomatic ties to the Soviet Union, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba became increasingly dependent on Soviet markets and military and economic aid. Castro was able to build a formidable military force with the help of Soviet equipment and military advisors. The KGB kept in close touch with Havana, and Castro tightened Communist Party control over all levels of government, the media, and the educational system, while developing a Soviet-style internal police force.

Castro's alliance with the Soviet Union caused something of a split between him and Guevara, who took a more pro-Chinese view following ideological conflict between the CPSU and the Maoist CPC. In 1967, Guevara left for Bolivia in an ill-fated attempt to stir up revolution against the country's government.

On 23 August 1968 Castro made a public gesture to the Soviet Union that reaffirmed their support in him. Two days after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Castro took to the airwaves and publicly denounced the Czech rebellion. Castro warned the Cuban people about the Czechoslovakian 'counter-revolutionaries', who "were moving Czechoslovakia towards capitalism and into the arms of imperialists". He called the leaders of the rebellion "the agents of West Germany and fascist reactionary rabble." In return for his public backing of the invasion, at a time when many Soviet allies were deeming the invasion an infringement of Czechoslovakia's sovereignty, the Soviets bailed out the Cuban economy with extra loans and an immediate increase in oil exports.

Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme visits Cuba in 1975.
Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme visits Cuba in 1975.

On November 4, 1975, Castro ordered the deployment of Cuban troops to Angola in order to aid the Marxist MPLA-ruled government against the UNITA opposition forces, which gained the support of the government of South Africa. Moscow aided the Cuban initiative with the USSR engaging in a massive airlift of Cuban forces into Angola. On this, Nelson Mandela has remarked "Cuban internationalists have done so much for African independence, freedom, and justice." [8] Cuban troops were also sent to Marxist Ethiopia to assist Ethiopian forces in the Ogaden War with Somalia in 1977. In addition, Castro extended support to Marxist Revolutionary movements throughout Latin America, such as aiding the Sandinistas in overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship in 1979.

When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Cuba in 1989, the close relationship between Moscow and Havana was strained by Gorbachev's implementation of economic reforms. "We are witnessing sad things in other socialist countries, very sad things," stated Castro in November 1989, in reference to the reforms that were sweeping such communist allies as the Soviet Union, East Germany, Hungary and Poland. The Soviet Union had subsidized the Cuban economy for decades, paying $1.23 per pound for sugar while the world market price of which had been steady between 17 and 22 cents per pound. According to Castro, "the sun vanished from the horizon when the Soviet Union collapsed." Cuba entered what it called the "Special Period". [9]. The effects were immediate and devastating.

Remaining as President

Castro's leadership of Cuba has remained largely unchallenged. His supporters claim this is because the population believes Castro is responsible for improved living conditions. Castro's opponents believe his continued leadership is due to the coercion, repression and jailing of dissidents.

In 2005, Forbes magazine listed Castro among the world's richest people, with an estimated net worth of $550 million. As a result Castro is considering filing a lawsuit against the magazine, saying the accusations are false and the article was meant to defame him.

Criticisms of the United States

Castro remains a vocal critic of United States policies, speaking against the continuing economic embargo and US attempts to topple his government. He has also condemned what he sees as exploitation of developing countries by U.S. corporations and even the state of public health care in the United States. Recently, he has harshly condemned U.S. travel sanctions, which severely limit travel between the United States and Cuba. Castro also opposes the growing costs of servicing foreign debt.

During the Cold War, the United States engaged in a variety of covert, and often deadly attacks in Cuba. Between 1960 and 1965, the U.S. government made plans to assassinate him:; Having the Havana broadcasting studio sprayed with a mind altering chemical, poisoning his cigars, dusting his boots with a chemical that would cause his beard to fall out, and planting an explosive seashell in the area where he was known to scuba dive. (Vail 108). [10]

After John F. Kennedy's election in the United States, the President's close advisers set up their own covert structure to eliminate Castro. Launched in November 1961, it was code named Operation Mongoose. [11]

In 2000, four Cuban exiles with ties to the Cuban-American National Foundation (url) were convicted in a Panamanian court of plotting to assassinate Castro during a regional summit. The four were pardoned in 2004 and all but Luis Posada Carriles entered the United States. Posada appeared in the U.S in May 2005, but was arrested and faces extradition to Venezuela. (url) All four men have been accused of working for the CIA at one time or another. [12]


Castro is an atheist and has not been a practicing Roman Catholic since his childhood. Pope John XXIII excommunicated Castro on January 3, 1962 on the basis of a 1949 decree by Pope Pius XII forbidding Catholics from supporting communist governments. For Castro, who had previously renounced his Catholic faith, this was an event of very little consequence, nor was it expected to be otherwise. It was primarily aimed at undermining support for Castro among Catholics.

In the early 1990s, Castro agreed to loosen restrictions on religion and even permitted church-going Catholics to join the Cuban Communist Party. After Pope John Paul II denounced the US embargo on Cuba as "unjust and ethically unacceptable", the relationship between the Vatican and Castro improved. John Paul II visited Cuba in 1998, the first visit by a ruling pontiff to the island. Castro and the Pope appeared side by side in public on several occasions during the visit; the Pope generally stayed away from overt political themes, instead emphasizing that his trip was designed to strengthen the Catholic Church in Cuba. However, he criticized the widespread practice of abortion in Cuban hospitals as well as urged Castro to end the government's monopoly on education, in order to allow the return of Catholic schools. [13] Following the visit, Cubans were again allowed to mark Christmas as a holiday and to openly hold religious processions.

After the Pope's death in April 2005, Castro attended a mass in his honor in Havana's cathedral. He had last visited the cathedral in 1959, 46 years earlier, for the wedding of one of his sisters. Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who led the mass, welcomed Castro, who was dressed in a dark suit, and expressed his gratitude for the "heartfelt way the death of our Holy Father John Paul II was received (in Cuba)." [14]

Human Rights in Cuba

Main article: Human rights in Cuba

Tens of thousands of political opponents and dissidents have been reported killed during Castro's decades-long rule. [15] Some Cubans who have been labeled "counterrevolutionaries", "fascists", or "CIA operatives" have been imprisoned in extremely poor conditions without trial; some have been summarily executed. Military Units to Aid Production, or UMAP's were labor camps established in 1965, according to Castro, for "people who have committed crimes against revolutionary morals" in order to work counter-revolutionary influences out of certain segments of the population.

Citing previous US hostility, supporters of Castro thus portray active opposition to the Cuban government as illegitimate, and the result of an ongoing conspiracy fostered by Cuban exiles with ties to the United States or the CIA. Many Castro supporters say that Castro's measures are justified to prevent the United States from installing a puppet leader in Cuba. Castro's opposition say he uses the United States as an excuse to justify his continuing political control.

Popular image

A portrait of Fidel Castro
A portrait of Fidel Castro
Castro displayed on a billboard in Cuba the day of an address to a select group of government supporters. The caption reads, "We're doing well".
Castro displayed on a billboard in Cuba the day of an address to a select group of government supporters. The caption reads, "We're doing well".

Since Fidel Castro came to power, he and his government have exhibited many traits of personalist rule commonly attributed to a cult of personality, despite attempts to discourage it. In contrast to many of the world's modern strongmen, Castro has only twice been personally featured on a Cuban stamp. In 1974 he appeared on a stamp to commemorate the visit of Leonid Brezhnev, and in 1999 he appeared on a stamp commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Revolution. There has been a strong tendency to encourage reverence for other Cuban figures such as José Martí, Che Guevara, and the "martyrs" of the Cuban revolution such as Camilo Cienfuegos.

The Cuban government saturates the population with "revolutionary" slogans and propaganda, in the form of such items as billboards and posters. Castro features prominently in much of this, his own persona being intertwined with the Cuban flag and identity, and the revolution itself. Fidel rarely appears in public without his military fatigues, and is famous for giving speeches which often last several hours. Large crowds of people gather to cheer at these fiery speeches. A BBC article focusing on the longevity of Castro's rule concludes that, "[for many Cubans], everything about Castro is Cuban and everything Cuban is Castro." [1] This style of leadership has led to a common characterization of Castro as being a subject of a personality cult, especially by critics. Sam Dolgoff, in an anarchist critique of Castro's government, wrote that Castro attempts to justify oppressive rule by projecting a messianic image:

The way he treats his friends and collaborators convincingly reveals this condition. He goes to extremes in persecuting those who dare question his orders or dissociate themselves from him; he insults collaborators in public; is enraptured to the point of hysteria by public ovations; basks in the adulation and servility of his subordinates. His ideology is, in effect, "the cult of personality."...Castro projected a godlike image of himself, as a sort of earthly Messiah. He encouraged the illusion that only HE and his select group of "disciples" and the "heroes of the Revolution" have earned the right to wield unlimited power over the people of Cuba. [2]

However, in contrast to most personality cults, the details of Castro's private life, particularly those concerning his family members, are scarce. He is also not the only individual that figures prominently in official propaganda, as fellow Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara appears not only on billboards and posters, but on the sides of buildings and especially on various trinkets sold to tourists. It was said that this sort of posthumous imposition of a personality cult is similar to the usage of Vladimir Lenin's persona during the era of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, in that a deceased leader is invoked in support of government policies and the state itself. Castro, however, has always maintained that there exists no such thing:

[W]e have never preached cult of personality. You will not see a statue of me anywhere, nor a school with my name, nor a street, nor a little town, nor any type of personality cult because we have not taught our people to believe, but to think, to reason out. [3]

Family and health

Fidel Castro's parents were Lina Ruz González and Ángel Castro y Argiz. He has two brothers: Ramón (born in 1924), Raúl (born in 1931) and one sister Juanita Castro Ruz who lives in Miami, Florida. By his first wife Mirta Díaz-Balart, he has a son named Fidel "Fidelito" Castro-Díaz-Balart. Mirta left Cuba in 1954 taking Fidelito with her, and she divorced Castro later the same year. Fidelito was later returned to Cuba. Mirta now lives in Spain. By Fidel's second wife Dalia Soto, he has four sons named Alex, Alexis, Antonio, and Alejandro. While Fidel was still married to Mirta, he had an affair with Naty Revuelta which resulted in a daughter named Alina Fernandez-Revuelta. Alina left Cuba in 1993, disguised as a Spanish tourist to avoid emigration restrictions. She now lives in the United States.

There has been speculation about Castro's health since he apparently fainted during a seven-hour speech under the Caribbean sun in June 2001. His doctors say his health is improving.

During 2004, there was further speculation about the state of Castro's health. In January 2004, Luis Eduardo Garzón, the mayor of Bogotá, said that Castro "seemed very sick to me" following a meeting with him during a vacation in Cuba. (url) In May 2004, Castro's physician denied that his health was failing, and speculated that he would live to be 140 years old. Dr. Eugenio Selman Housein said that the "press is always speculating about something, that he had a heart attack once, that he had cancer, some neurological problem", but maintained that Castro was in good health. (url)

On 20 October 2004, Castro fell off a stage following a speech he gave at a rally. The fall fractured his knee and arm. He underwent three hours and 15 minutes of surgery to repair his left kneecap, which was fractured into eight pieces. [16]

Following his fall, Castro wrote a letter that was read on Cuban television and published in newspapers. In it, he assured the public that he was fine and would "not lose contact with you." (url) A government statement added: "His general health is good, and spirits are excellent."

By November, Castro surprised many when he suddenly stood up from his wheelchair during a state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao, leaning on a metal cane with an arm support. The following month, he stood unassisted for several minutes during a visit by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Finally, cheered by hundreds of lawmakers, a smiling Castro walked in public for the first time since shattering his kneecap in the fall after only two months. Legislators looked stunned, then smiled and applauded, when Cuba's 78-year-old president entered the main auditorium of the Convention Palace on the arm of a uniformed schoolgirl to attend a year-end National Assembly meeting.

Because of his large role in Cuba, his well-being has become a continual source of speculation, both on and off the island, as he has grown older. Castro's quick recovery from breaking his left kneecap into eight pieces was likely to dampen the latest round of rumors questioning his health.

Preceded by:
José Miró Cardona
Prime Minister of Cuba
Succeeded by:
(position abolished 1976)
Preceded by:
Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado
President of Cuba
Succeeded by:
Incumbent (indefinite)
Raúl Castro (designated)


1⇧ "Castro: The great survivor" BBC story.
2⇧ The Cuban Revolution: A Critical Perspective by Sam Dolgoff.
3⇧ Online Newshour: Fidel Castro -- February 12, 1985 Interview with Fidel Castro


  • Gott, Richard (2004). Cuba: A New History. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300104111

See also

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