Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro dead at 90

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Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who ruled his country as a one-party communist state for nearly half a century and defied U.S. efforts to topple him, has died at the age of 90, his brother and current president Raul Castro has announced. (more)

Raul Castro said in a brief appearance on state television that Fidel passed away at 10:29 p.m. local time on Friday. No cause of death was immediately given. Raul added that his brother’s remains will be cremated on early Saturday morning in accordance with his will.

“Dear people of Cuba, it is with great sadness that I must inform our people, the friends of our America and the world, that today, 25 November 2016, at 10:29 in the evening, the commander in chief of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, died,” Raul Castro said in his brief statement.

Fidel Castro lived to see the day that the United States re-opened its embassy in Havana after decades of hostility. The U.S. and Cuba formally re-established diplomatic relations in July 2015 and, in addition to re-opening their embassies, the countries have since re-established postal services, flights and cruises.

The seed for the hostility was sown on New Year’s Day in 1959 when Castro led a guerrilla campaign to oust right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista. Castro went on to launch a political, social and economic revolution, transforming a country once known as the “brothel of the Caribbean” into a third world power.

But while Castro’s admirers praised him for promoting social reform and growing Cuba’s influence in the world, he was reviled by critics as a dictator who forced communism on his people and suppressed any opposition to his decades of rule.

With the United States as his greatest enemy, Castro became the target of U.S. plots to topple his regime. Most notably, the CIA trained and financed some 1,500 anti-Castro Cuban exiles to launch an invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in 1961. The attempt failed and scores of people were killed in the battle.

Just 1.5 year later, the Cuban Missile Crisis erupted when Castro gave permission to the Soviet Union to build a missile base in Cuba. For two weeks, at the height of the Cold War, the world held its breath amid fears that the Cold War could escalate into a full-scale nuclear war.

After negotiations between U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union announced that it would dismantle the missile installations in Cuba.

Over the following decades, Cuba maintained close ties with Moscow until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The fall of the Soviet Union hit Cuba hard and prompted angry Cubans to take to the streets to protest food shortages and power cuts. In response, Castro announced a number of measures and legalized the U.S. dollar.

Concerns over Castro’s health began to emerge in 2001 when the leader fainted at a rally. After undergoing surgery for intestinal bleeding in 2006, he transferred his presidential powers to his brother Raul, though Castro himself held on to the title of president until February 2008.

Castro was rarely seen in public in recent years, prompting occasional rumors of his death. He met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014 and more recently he was seen meeting with Pope Francis in September 2015.

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