Fidel Castro was born near Birán, Cuba, on August 13, 1926. In 1959, Castro used guerilla warfare to successfully overthrow Cuban leader Batista, and was sworn in as prime minister of Cuba. Fidel Castro was the third of six children, including his two brothers, Raul and Ramon; and three sisters, Angelita, Emma and Augustina. His father, Angel, was a wealthy sugar plantation owner originally from Spain.
His mother, Lina Ruz Gonzalez, had been a maid to Angel’s first wife, Maria Luisa Argota, at the time of Fidel’s birth. By the time Fidel was 15, his father dissolved his first marriage and wed Fidel’s mother.
In 1948, Castro married Mirta Diaz Balart, who was from a wealthy family in Cuba. They had one child, Fidelito. The marriage exposed Castro to a wealthier lifestyle and political connections.
Castro pursued his political ambitions as a candidate for a seat in the Cuban parliament, but a coup led by General Fulgencio Batista successfully overthrew the government and cancelled the election.
The illegitimate son of a wealthy farmer, Castro adopted leftist anti-imperialist politics while studying law at the University of Havana.
After participating in rebellions against right-wing governments in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, he planned the overthrow of the United States-backed military junta of Cuban president Fulgencio Batista, and served a year’s imprisonment in 1953 after a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks.
On release he traveled to Mexico, where he formed a revolutionary group with his brother Raúl and friend Che Guevara, the 26th of July Movement.
During 1961 Castro proclaimed the socialist nature of his administration, with Cuba becoming a one-party state under Communist Party rule; the first of its kind in the western hemisphere. Socialist reforms introducing central economic planning and expanding healthcare and education were accompanied by state control of the press and the suppression of internal dissent.
Abroad, Castro supported foreign revolutionary groups in the hope of toppling world capitalism, sending Cuban troops to fight in the Yom Kippur War, Ogaden War, and Angolan Civil War.
In 1962, Cuba was the center of world focus when the U.S. discovered the construction sites of Soviet nuclear missiles. The struggle that ensued between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the Cuban Missile Crisis, brought the world the closest it ever came to nuclear war.
Over the next four decades, Castro ruled Cuba as a dictator. While some Cubans benefited from Castro’s educational and land reforms, others suffered from the food shortages and lack of personal freedoms. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have fled Cuba to live in the United States.
Many Cubans, particularly those in the middle and upper classes, fled Cuba shortly after the revolution. These Cuban emigrants generally despise Castro and his revolution.
Many fled because they feared the crackdown that followed Castro’s conversion of the Cuban state and economy to communism. As part of the transition to communism, many private companies and lands were confiscated by the government.
In July 2006, Castro announced that he was temporarily handing over power to his brother, Raúl, while he underwent gastrointestinal surgery. Since then, complications with the surgery caused infections for which Castro underwent several additional surgeries.