Who is he: Fidel Castro is the former President of Cuba and one of Latin America's most heralded freedom fighters. Alternately, depending on who is describing him, he was a powerful dictator. Castro came into power in 1959 after the Cuban Revolution, known as the July 26 Movement in memory of the failed military barracks attack which resulted in Castro's imprisonment.
Fidel Castro remained in power until his health would no longer allow him to fulfill his official duties. Upon his resignation Fidel immediately named his brother Raul, then Vice President of Cuba, as his immediate successor.
Fidel Castro has been a highly divisive figure in world politics since his arrival to prominence in 1959. His defiance of the United States against gigantic odds has made him a highly respected figure by many of his Latin America counterparts in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, which Cuba joined in 2006. One of the first actions of the Obama Administration was to ease the tensions between the two countries in terms of trade, in consideration, it is said, of Castro's age and health.
Background: Fidel Castro was born in Cuba in 1927 as the illegitimate son of a wealthy sugar plantation owner. After organizing a protest against his father's operational policies toward the workers and general bad behavior in elementary school, Fidel was sent to Jesuit boarding school for his high school years. Fidel, like many other young Cuban boys, excelled at soccer and baseball. He was given an award in 1944 as Cuba's best young athlete but Castro also excelled in the classroom. History was his primary educational discipline as a youngster.
After completing his law degree at the University of Havana, Fidel Castro opened his practice locally, representing individuals largely in pro bono cases. Castro became involved in anti-imperialist politics and the establishment of the Cuban People's Party, based on its platform against governmental corruption and oppression of the Cuban people by the corporations that were operating in Cuba. Many American companies were effectively bribing the ruling government to exploit Cuba's sub-standard economy for financial profit. In many ways, Cuba was an extension of the United States without having a voice in governmental operations.
Castro was nominated as the party candidate for Congress in 1952. He was a charismatic and dynamic speaker, appealing to the mass population in terms that they could understand. The Cuban Revolution became a populist movement with Castro leading the way. The election was in serious jeopardy for the sitting powers as the party movement grew with the voters' support, and General Fulgencio Batista took control of the government to maintain the status quo. Castro was imprisoned with other Cuban revolutionaries until 1955.
The Cuban People's Party, largely with Castro in the lead, recruited an army from among the common people. They trained in guerilla warfare behind the revolutionary direction and vision of Ernesto Che Guevara. Castro met Guevara in 1955 in Mexico City while attempting to build a revolutionary force after being released from a Cuban prison. Guevara already had a significant group of guerilla freedom fighters. The Castro Brothers and Guevara immediately began a political relationship that placed Fidel Castro at the head of the movement and Che "Pig" Guevara as general of the armed guerilla forces.
The Castro team was described as the "heart" and the "fist" of the Cuban Revolution, with Guevara being labeled the "brain." Castro still maintains that it is in progress against foreign imperialism. After Fidel Castro was placed in power as Prime Minister of Cuba, the United States became concerned with his anti-imperialist political theory. The American business interests in Cuba clearly wanted him gone and the CIA actually implemented futile assassination attempts. Cuba and the United States have since been political foes, enhanced by the Bay of Pigs conflict in 1962 involving the Soviet Union's placement of nuclear warheads in Cuba.
The American initiatives to take Castro out of power, including a decades-long economic blockade, have provided his impetus to claim that the revolution is ongoing. He has been largely criticized for being too concerned with holding power. After the failed US invasion of Cuba, Castro decreed in 1961 that Cuba is a socialist state consistent with his belief in Marxist-Leninist socialism.
Castro was the official Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 until 1976. In 1976 Cuba changed the title to president, though the government is still a communist operation. Castro was also given the title of Commander in Chief of the Cuban armed forces. In 1965, the Communist Party of Cuba had been established with Castro as the first Secretary General and the Cuban People's Party that he rode to power was dissolved.