Fidel Castro, former president and leader of the Cuban revolution, died Friday night at age 90, Cuban state television confirmed.
Raul Castro, Cuba’s President and Fidel Castro’s brother, announced that Fidel would be cremated on Saturday. “The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution died 10:29 p.m. tonight,” said Castro.
Born in 1926 to a prominent landowner in Holguín Province, Cuba, Fidel went on to lead Cuba’s revolutionary independence movement, defeating the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in 1959.
Soon after his movement took power, Fidel adopted an explicitly socialist model of development and forged strong ties with the Soviet Union, earning the wrath of the United States.
For the next 48 years, until resigning in 2008, Fidel led the tiny island nation to historic levels of development, leading the world in many social indicators including literacy and public health rates.
Influence and Internationalism
The success of Cuba’s revolution also meant facing down more than 50 years of a hostile and destructive U.S. blockade, while also surviving multiple CIA assassination attempts. Fidel and Cuba inspired a growing decolonization movement throughout the world, one which Fidel actively supported by creating networks of mutual aid throughout Latin America, Africa, and the rest of the Global South.
Under Fidel’s leadership, Cuba’s internationalism expanded beyond support for liberation movements such as Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, with the small island sending thousands of health and education professionals across the world. Cuba’s literacy program is credited with having taught millions to read outside of Cuba, while Cuban doctors earned even the admiration of the United States, who recently lauded their “heroic” contribution to combatting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Fidel was also vital in the upsurge of left-wing government in Latin America, beginning with the election of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998. Fidel and Chavez not only developed a famous friendship, but the two leaders pushed for a radicalization and coordination of regional movements which yielded left-wing victories in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, along with left-leaning governments in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.
The two leaders also founded the Bolivarian Alternative for Our America, or ALBA bloc, which promoted an alternative to neoliberal free trade.
Fidel Recently Turned 90
Revered by many and loathed by others, the Cuban leader remained influential and was highly regarded even by his detractors as a keen analyst of world affairs.
His native Cuba recently celebrated his 90th birthday, where in typical Fidel style, he foreshadowed what was to come with elegance and dignity.
“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” Fidel said at an April 2016 communist party congress where he made his most extensive public appearance in years. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof that on this planet , if one works with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need and that need to be fought for without ever giving up.”