Cuba’s historic leader, Fidel Castro, dies
In Cuba, Fidel Castro led thousands of bearded rebels to victorious revolution in 1959. He embraced Soviet-style communism. He defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half-century of rule. Now, he has died. He was 90 years old.
Cuba is a large island not far from American soil. It is only 90 miles from Florida. Cuba has 11 million people.
With a shaking voice, President Raul Castro said that his older brother died Nov. 25. He ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan. "Toward victory, always!"
Castro's reign over Cuba was marked by the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. It was marked by the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later. That event brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Castro outlasted a crippling U.S. trade embargo. He also outlasted dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots. He died 10 years after a life-threatening illness. It led him to turn over power to his brother.
Before he led the country, Castro overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro spent time in exile in Mexico. But he finally forced rebellion on Cuba, and in the end, he triumphantly rode into Havana. This was in January 1959. At age 32, he was the youngest leader in Latin America. For decades he was a source of inspiration and support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa. This was even as Cubans who fled Cuba into exile hated him with equal measure. Many of those Cubans remain in South Florida.
Castro's commitment to socialism was unwavering. His power finally began to fade in mid-2006. That is when an ailment forced him to hand over the presidency to Raul in 2008. Castro's defiant image lingered, however.
"Socialism or death" remained Castro's rallying cry. This was even as democracy swept the globe. Communist regimes in China and Vietnam embraced capitalism. That left Cuba economically crippled.
He survived long enough to see his brother negotiate an opening with U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 17, 2014. That is when Washington and Havana announced they would move to restore diplomatic ties. They were severed in 1961. Castro cautiously blessed the historic deal. He did it in a letter published after a month-long silence. Obama made a historic visit to Havana in March 2016.
Raul has announced plans to retire as president. He has said he would retire when his term ends. That is scheduled Feb. 24, 2018. Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, a relatively younger leader, is seen as a possible successor. Raul has said he would stay on as head of the Communist Party.
Carlos Rodriguez, 15, was sitting in Havana's Miramar neighborhood when he heard that Fidel Castro had died.
"Fidel? Fidel?" he said, slapping his head in shock. "That's not what I was expecting. One always thought that he would last forever. It doesn't seem true."
"It's a tragedy," said 22-year-old nurse Dayan Montalvo. "We all grew up with him. I feel really hurt by the news."
But the news cheered the community of Cuban exiles in Florida. Their families had fled Castro's government. Thousands gathered in the streets in Miami's Little Havana. Cars honked horns. Police blocked off streets.
Alex Ferran, 21, headed toward the gathering. He was beside himself with excitement.
"We're here to celebrate. This is history in the making," Ferran said. "This is insane, dude. Someone died and there's a parade. This could only happen here."
Obama said that the United States extended "a hand of friendship to the Cuban people." He added that, "history will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him."
Obama said that in the coming days, Cubans "will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner" in America.
President-elect Donald Trump called Castro "a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades." He said he hoped the death would clear the way "toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve."
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.
Cuba's government announced that Castro's ashes would be interred on Dec. 4 in the eastern city of Santiago. It was a birthplace of his revolution. That will follow more than a week of honors.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What makes Cuba so important to the U.S.?
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