15 Amazing Facts About Fidel Castro (1926-2016) That You May Not Know

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Nov 27 2016
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Cuban revolutionary and leader Fidel Castro died late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, at the age of 90. He established the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere after leading an overthrow of the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. He brought the Cold War to the door step of United States and almost pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war.


The mighty U.S. couldn’t defeat him during his nearly half a century as Cuba’s ultimate leader. At the end, illness defeated the man who had held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl and would take another 2 years before formally resigned as president.


After he embraced Communism, Washington portrayed him as a devil and a tyrant and repeatedly tried to remove him – without any success. Mr. Castro’s defiance of American power made him a beacon of resistance in Latin America – a symbol of revolution throughout the world and an inspiration for many imitators. Here’re 15 amazing facts about Fidel Castro.



{ 1 } Fidel Castro Was Born Fidel Ruz

Fidel Castro was born Fidel Ruz in 1926 near Birán, Cuba. His father, Ángel Castro Argiz, was a Spanish migrant from Galacia who moved to Cuba and became a wealthy sugar plantation owner. He eventually became a landowner and Castro’s family had its own sugar plantation. He always claimed to be happier in the countryside than in the cities.


His mother – Lina Ruz Gonzalez – was a maid and Ángel’s mistress. It was not until Castro reached age 15 that he was recognized as a legitimate son when his father dissolved his marriage to his first wife. At age 17, Fidel’s father married his mother and formally changed his son’s last name from Fidel Ruz to Fidel Castro.



{ 2 } Fidel Castro Was A Lawyer

Castro was studying law at the Havana University when he became politically active in socialist and nationalist causes, in particular opposition to U.S. intervention in the Caribbean. He campaigned for the presidency of the Federation of University Students on a platform of “honesty, decency and justice”, but failed. Soon, he became interested in the writings of Marx and Lenin and the cause of revolutionary socialism.


After receiving his doctorate in law in 1950, Castro began pursuing politics as a member of the Cuban People’s Party (Ortodoxo Party). Castro planned to run for congress in 1952, but his political ambitions were dashed when presidential candidate Batista, who had previously served as president from 1940 to 1944, took power in a military coup.



{ 3 } Fidel Castro Was Baptized A Catholic But Said Jesus Was A Communist

Castro was baptized a Catholic at the age of 8 so that he could attend the La Salle boarding school in Santiago. But after his 1959 Cuban Revolution, he established a socialist and officially atheist state, and declared himself a non-believer. He even said Jesus Christ was a communist – “Christ chose the fishermen because he was a communist,”


Of course, Castro was referring to Christ’s choice of humble fishermen from the Sea of Galilee to be his first disciples. His brother Raul Castro – then-second-in-command in the ruling Communist Party headed by Fidel Castro agreed – “I think that’s why they killed Jesus, for being a communist, for doing what Fidel defined as ‘Revolution’ … that is to say, changing the situation,”



{ 4 } Fidel Castro Loved To Work During Odd Hour


Castro liked to work late, sometimes going to sleep as late as 3 am or 4 am. However, he tried to use it to his advantage, fixing meetings for tricky negotiations in the wee hours, hoping to capitalize on the others being fatigued and sleepy. It was not rare to see him giving interviews to journalists who had dozed off!



{ 5 } Fidel Castro Was The World’s 3rd Longest-Serving Head of State


Fidel Castro led Cuba for five decades and was the world’s third longest-serving head of state, after Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and King Bhumibol of Thailand. He temporarily ceded power to his brother Raul in July 2006 after undergoing intestinal surgery. The handover of power only became official in 2008.



{ 6 } Fidel Castro Survived 638 Assassination Attempts

There were at least 638 attempts to kill Fidel Castro – primarily plotted or sponsored by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). That’s roughly 1 attempt to kill him every month. CIA actually had a dedicate covert operation to kill Castro called “Operation Mongoose”. Castro famously said: “If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal.”


The CIA had tried various methods to kill Castro, including poison pills, a toxic cigar, exploding mollusks, a ball-point pen containing a syringe full of poison and a chemically tainted diving suit. Among the plans was a desperate plot that involved giving him powder that would make his beard fall out in the hope of humiliating him.



{ 7 } Fidel Castro Outlasted 9 U.S. Presidents

Despite the 638 plots to assassinate him, including a US-backed exile invasion at the Bay of Pigs and five decades of economic sanctions, Castro outlasted nine U.S. presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton. Castro stepped down in 2008, 1 year before George W. Bush left power. President Barack Obama was the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge did in 1928.


Fidel Castro, however, had responded to Barack Obama’s historic trip to Cuba with a lengthy and scornful letter – 1,500-word letter titled “Brother Obama” – that recounts the history of US aggression against Cuba and reasserts its independence with a warning to the American leader that “we don’t need the empire to give us any presents”.



{ 8 } Fidel Castro Had An Amazing Reason For Keeping His Beard


Fidel Castro started wearing a beard as a young revolutionary living in the mountains. His iconic beard was not merely symbolic. The guerrilla fighter had an amazing reason for keeping his beard – “If you calculate 15 minutes a day to shave, that is 5,000 minutes a year spent shaving,” he said, adding that he would rather spend his time on more important activities.



{ 9 } Fidel Castro Had 9 Children From 5 Wives

Castro married Mirta Diaz Balart, the daughter of a wealthy family tied to the Batista regime. Their son Fidelito (little Fidel) is a Soviet-trained nuclear scientist born in 1949 out of his brief marriage to Mirta Diaz-Balart. Daughter Alina Fernandez, the result of an affair with a Havana socialite when Castro was underground in the 1950s, escaped from Cuba disguised as a tourist in 1993


Mirta filed for divorce when Castro was still in prison after his love letters to another Cuban socialite, Natalia Revuelta, and Castro’s letters to his wife were switched – believed done deliberately by a prison director. Castro has 5 sons with his common-law wife since the 1960s, Dalia Soto del Valle. He also has a son and a daughter born to 2 other women with whom he had affairs before coming to power.



{ 10 } Fidel Castro Holds Record For Longest Speech


Fidel Castro holds the Guinness Book of Records title for the longest speech ever delivered at the United Nations – 4 hours and 29 minutes, on Sept. 29, 1960. His longest speech on record in Cuba was 7 hours and 30 minutes on Feb 24, 1998, after the national assembly re-elected him to a five-year term as president.



{ 11 } Fidel Castro Loved Cigar But Gave Up In 1985


Castro was a fan of Havana cigars and used to chomp on Cuban cigars as if there’s no tomorrow but gave them up in 1985. Years later he summed up the harm of smoking tobacco by saying – “The best thing you can do with this box of cigars is give them to your enemy.”



{ 12 } Fidel Castro Almost Started Nuclear War

The U.S. was alarmed by Castro’s friendly relations with the Soviet Union but failed to remove him despite 638 assassination, economic blockade, and even invasion. Countering these threats, Castro formed an alliance with the Soviets and allowed them to place nuclear weapons on the island – a defining incident of the Cold War in 1962.


Also known as “Cuban Missile Crisis”, the confrontation began after US satellite images showed Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba which were at a striking distance – 90 miles from Florida. U.S. had then placed nuclear missiles in Turkey aiming at Russia. After 13 days of tension, both the superpowers decided to dismantle their weapons – in Cuba and Turkey.



{ 13 } Fidel Castro Established The First Communist Country In The Western Hemisphere

Adopting a Marxist-Leninist model of development, Castro converted Cuba into a one-party socialist state under Communist Party rule, immediately making the nation as the first communist country in the Western Hemisphere. Reforms introduced inclusive of central economic planning and expanding healthcare and education.


Abroad, Castro supported anti-imperialist revolutionary groups, backing the establishment of Marxist governments in Chile, Nicaragua, and Grenada, and sending troops to aid allies in the Yom Kippur War, Ogaden War, and Angolan Civil War. Following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, Castro led Cuba into its “Special Period” and embraced environmentalist and anti-globalization ideas.



{ 14 } Fidel Castro & Che Guevara Were Good Friends

Fidel Castro and Argentine Marxist Che Guevara met in 1954 in Mexico. Impressed with Guevara’s expertise in guerilla warfare, Castro quickly recruited him to join the Cuban revolution. Together with Fidel’s brother Raul and 80 comrades, they sailed to Cuba aboard the yacht Granma, with the intention of overthrowing U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.


Following the Cuban Revolution, Guevara was made the country’s minister of industries and serving as both national bank president and instructional director for Cuba’s armed forces. Even though they eventually went their separate ways after a difference of opinion, Castro would always hold Che Guevara in high esteem.



{ 15 } Fidel Castro Was Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Personalities

There were hundreds of people named by U.S. Time Magazine as influential figures in history. But Fidel Castro was one of the magazine’s 100 most influential personalities in 2012, along with others like Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Galileo Galilei, Genghis Khan, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Platon, Napoleon and Karl Marx.


Fidel Castro was also regarded highly in Asia – the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described Castro as “one of the greatest men of our times”. In Latin America, he was inspirational for leaders like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales while in Africa, he was viewed as an inspiration by leaders like Nelson Mandela.


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