HAVANA, Nov 26, (Agencies): Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States and for five decades defied US efforts to topple him, died on Friday. He was 90. A towering figure of the second half of the 20th Century, Castro stuck to his ideology beyond the collapse of Soviet communism and remained widely respected in parts of the world that had struggled against colonial rule. He had been in poor health since an intestinal ailment nearly killed him in 2006. He formally ceded power to his younger brother Raul Castro two years later.
Wearing a green military uniform, a somber Raul Castro, 85, appeared on state television on Friday night to announce his brother’s death. “At 10.29 at night, the chief commander of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, died,” he said, without giving a cause of death. “Ever onward, to victory,” he said, using the slogan of the Cuban revolution. Tributes came in from allies, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who said “revolutionaries of the world must follow his legacy.”
Although Raul Castro always glorified his older brother, he has changed Cuba since taking over by introducing market-style economic reforms and agreeing with the United States in December 2014 to re-establish diplomatic ties and end decades of hostility. Fidel Castro offered only lukewarm support for the deal, raising questions about whether he approved of ending hostilities with his longtime enemy. He did not meet Barack Obama when he visited Havana earlier this year, the first time a US president had stepped foot on Cuban soil since 1928.
Days later, Castro wrote a scathing newspaper column condemning Obama’s “honey-coated” words and reminding Cubans of the many US efforts to overthrow and weaken the Communist government. The news of Castro’s death spread slowly among Friday night revelers on the streets of Havana. One famous club that was still open when word came in quickly closed. Some residents reacted with sadness to the news. “I’m very upset. Whatever you want to say, he is a public figure that the whole world respected and loved,” said Havana student Sariel Valdespino.
But in Miami, where many exiles from Castro’s Communist government live, a large crowd waving Cuban fl ags cheered, danced and banged on pots and pans. Castro’s body will be cremated, according to his wishes. His brother said details of his funeral would be given on Saturday. The bearded Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and ruled Cuba for 49 years with a mix of charisma and iron will, creating a one-party state and becoming a central figure in the Cold War.
He was demonized by the United States and its allies but admired by many leftists around the world, especially socialist revolutionaries in Latin America and Africa. After Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 1990, he repeatedly thanked Castro for his firm efforts to weaken apartheid. In April, in a rare public appearance at the Communist Party conference, Fidel Castro shocked party apparatchiks by referring to his own imminent mortality. “Soon I will be like all the rest. Our turn comes to all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban communists will remain,” he said.
Castro was last seen by ordinary Cubans in photos showing him engaged in conversation with the Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang earlier this month. Transforming Cuba from a playground for rich Americans into a symbol of resistance to Washington, Castro crossed swords with 10 US presidents while in power and outlasted nine of them. He fended off a CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 as well as countless assassination attempts.
His alliance with Moscow helped trigger the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a 13-day showdown with the United States that brought the world the closest it has been to nuclear war. Wearing green military fatigues and chomping on cigars for many of his years in power, Castro was famous for long, fist-pounding speeches filled with blistering rhetoric, often aimed at the United States. At home, he swept away capitalism and won support for bringing schools and hospitals to the poor. But he also created legions of enemies and critics, concentrated among the exiles in Miami who fl ed his rule and saw him as a ruthless tyrant. “With Castro’s passing, some of the heat may go out of the antagonism between Cuba and the United States, and between Cuba and Miami, which would be good for everyone,” said William M. LeoGrande, co-author of a book on USCuba relations.
However, it is not clear if US President- Elect Donald Trump will continue to normalize relations with Cuba, or revive tensions and fulfill a campaign promise to close the US embassy in Havana once again. Castro’s death — which would once have thrown a question mark over Cuba’s future — seems unlikely to trigger a crisis as Raul Castro is firmly ensconced in power. In his final years, Fidel Castro no longer held leadership posts. He wrote newspaper commentaries on world affairs and occasionally met with foreign leaders but he lived in semi-seclusion.
Still, the passing of the man known to most Cubans as “El Comandante” — the commander — or simply “Fidel” leaves a huge void in the country he dominated for so long. It also underlines the generational change in Cuba’s communist leadership. Raul Castro vows to step down when his term ends in 2018 and the Communist Party has elevated younger leaders to its Politburo, including 56-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, who is first vicepresident and the heir apparent. Others in their 50s include Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and economic reform czar Marino Murillo.
The reforms have led to more private enterprise and the lifting of some restrictions on personal freedoms but they aim to strengthen Communist Party rule, not weaken it. “I don’t think Fidel’s passing is the big test. The big test is handing the revolution over to the next generation and that will happen when Raul steps down,” Cuba expert Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute in Virginia said before Castro’s death. A Jesuit-educated lawyer, Fidel Castro led the revolution that ousted USbacked dictator Fulgencio Batista on Jan 1, 1959. Aged 32, he quickly took control of Cuba and sought to transform it into an egalitarian society. His government improved the living conditions of the very poor, achieved health and literacy levels on a par with rich countries and rid Cuba of a powerful Mafia presence. But he also tolerated little dissent, jailed opponents, seized private businesses and monopolized the media. Castro’s opponents labeled him a dictator and hundreds of thousands fl ed the island. “The dictator Fidel Castro has died, the cause of many deaths in Cuba, Latin American and Africa,” Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the island’s largest dissident group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, said on Twitter. Many dissidents settled in Florida, infl uencing US policy toward Cuba and plotting Castro’s demise.
Some even trained in the Florida swamps for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. But they could never dislodge him. Castro claimed he survived or evaded hundreds of assassination attempts, including some conjured up by the CIA.