Born Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz in August 1926 in Biran, Cuba, Fidel Castro was a Cuban revolutionary and politician. Under his rule, Cuba underwent significant economic, political, and social changes. During the Cuban Revolution, he and an associated group of revolutionaries toppled the ruling government of Fulgencio Batista, forcing him out of power.
Castro served as prime minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976 and then as president from 1976 to 2008. He passed away in November 2016 in Havana, Cuba.
Who was Fidel Castro?
Born on August 13, 1926, Fidel Castro was the longest-serving non-royal head of state in the 20th and 21st century. He ruled with Cuba for more than 30 years as president, and served as prime minister for more than 15 years before that.
He polarized opinion throughout the world. His supporters view him as a champion of socialism and anti-imperialism. His revolutionary government advanced economic and social justice while securing Cuba’s independence from US hegemony.
Critics, on the other hand, call him a dictator whose administration oversaw human rights abuses, the exodus of many Cubans, and the impoverishment of the country’s economy.
Castro led the Cuban revolution and served as leader from 1959 to 2008, first as prime minister from 1959 to 1976, and then as president to 2008.
He was born in Biran, Oriente, as a son of a wealthy Spanish farmer. He adopted leftist and anti-imperialist ideas while studying law in the University of Havana.
He participated in rebellions against right-wing governments in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, after which he planned the overthrow of the government in Cuba.
He launched a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. After failing, he was imprisoned for one year. Then, he travelled to Mexico where he formed a revolutionary group, called 26th of July Movement with his brother Raul Castro and Ernesto Che Guevera.
He returned to Cuba where he took a key role in the Cuban revolution by leading the movement in a guerrilla war against Batista’s forces. After overthrowing Batista in 1959, Castro assumed military and political power.
The United States of America opposed his government and attempted to remove him several times by assassinations, economic embargo, and counter-revolution. But even the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 was unsuccessful.
Castro aligned with the Soviet Union and allowed the Soviets to place nuclear weapons on Cuba, which resulted in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the beginning of the Cold War in 1962.
Castro adopted a Marxist-Leninist model of development and converted Cuba into a one-party, socialist state under Communist Party Rule. His Cuba was the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere.
During his rule, he backed up establishment of Marxist governments in Chile, Nicaragua, and Grenada, and sent troops to aid allies in the Yom Kippur, Ogaden, and Angolan Civil War.
In 2006, he transferred responsibilities to his brother Raul Castro, who was elected to the presidency by the National Assembly in 2008.
Why the US Hated him?
Fidel Castro proclaimed himself to be a socialist, Marxist, and Leninist and publicly identified as a Marxist-Leninist.
He wanted to transform Cuba from a capitalist state dominated by foreign imperialism into a socialist society and ultimately to a communist society.
He suggested that Cuba could evade most stages of socialism and progress straight to communism.
In February 1962, after the US unsuccessfully tried to overthrow him with the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Leader convened a mass rally in Havana. It was his response to Cuba’s expulsion from the Organization of American States.
In his long speech, he said, “What is the history of Cuba but the history of Latin America? And what is the history of Latin America but the history of Asia, Africa and Oceania? And what is the history of all these peoples but the history of the most pitiless and cruel exploitation by imperialism throughout the world?”
He also said, “the movement of the dependent and colonial peoples is a phenomenon of universal character which agitates the world and marks the final crisis of imperialism. Cuba and Latin America are part of the world. Our problems form part of the problems engendered by the crisis of imperialism and the struggle of the subjugated peoples, the clash between the world that is being born and the world that is dying”.
His message contained the quote, “Cuba hurts the imperialists in a special way. What is it that is hidden behind the Yankees’ hate of the Cuban revolution? What is it that explains the [aggression of] the most powerful and rich imperialist power in the contemporary world, and the oligarchies of an entire continent, which together are supposed to represent a population of 350 million human beings, against a small country of only seven million inhabitants, economically underdeveloped, without financial or military means to threaten the security or economy of any other country?”
And he ended by saying, “What unites them and stirs them up is fear. Not fear of the Cuban revolution – but fear of a Latin-American revolution. Not fear of the workers, peasants, intellectuals, students and progressive layers of the middle strata, which by revolution have taken power in Cuba – but fear that the workers, peasants, students, intellectuals and progressive sectors of the middle class will, by revolutionary means, take power in the oppressed and hungry countries, exploited by the Yankee monopolies and reactionary oligarchies of America… Fear that the plundered people of the continent will seize the arms from their oppressors and, like Cuba, declare themselves free people of America.”
7 Tries to Kill Him
Because the US couldn’t afford to have a leader like Castro in Cuba, they tried to take him out of power by assassination, economic embargo, and counter-revolution. But all of their tries, led by CIA, were unsuccessful. Here is a breakdown of the 7 tries CIA had to kill Castro.
The Exploding Cigar
This is probably the most famous attempt to kill Castro. It happened in 1960. Knowing that he is a fan of cigars, CIA poisoned a box of his favorite cigars.
A year after he seized power, the agency spiked the cigars with a toxin strong enough to kill anybody who put one in their mouth. They were delivered to an unidentified person in 1961. But it is unclear what happened to the cigars after that.
But they were never chewed by El Comandante.
The Psychedelic Speech
Another attempt was to try and sabotage his speeches by spraying his broadcasting studio with a chemical that would make him suffer similar hallucinations to LSD.
Before they tried to take his life, they tried to undermine the leader’s public image. Many in Cuba viewed him as a charismatic strongman, and CIA wanted to disrupt it.
But the LSD-like substance was abandoned because it proved too unstable and couldn’t do the damage the CIA wanted.
The Poison Pills
At the tail end of President Dwight Eisenhower’s term, CIA used a series of middlemen to try and remove Castro from office.
They were willing to pay $150,000, which would be $1.2 million nowadays, to kill Castro. They hired mobsters Sam Giancana, the boss of the Chicago mob, and Santos Trafficant, the head of the mob’s Cuban operation.
They suggested poison pills as a more reliable option than guns. CIA provided six such pills of high lethal content to a cash-strapped Cuban official who had access to Castro.
But after several unsuccessful attempts, the Cuban official got cold feet and the plan was abandoned.
The Painted Seashell
In 1963, a year after Castro delivered the powerful speech, CIA tried an even more elaborate plan. They wanted to use Fidel’s love of scuba-diving to topple him.
They planned to hide explosive inside a large seashell and paint it with exotic colors to lure his attention. But the idea was discarded as impractical according to the report by the committee.
The Contaminated Diving Suit
Speaking of diving, they also planned to contaminate one of his suits in 1963. They wanted to contaminate it with fungus that would produce a chronic and debilitating skin disease.
The idea was to give the suit to Castro by the American lawyer James Donovan, who had been involved in hostage negotiations with the Cuban leader.
But Donovan gave Castro a different suit and the plan was abandoned.
The poisoned Pen
You can say this plan was out of a James Bond movie or novel. They wanted to kill Castro using a hypodermic needle concealed within a pen.
They planned to use a needle so fine that the victim would not notice its insertion. It was to be rigged with poison and injected into Castro by a highly placed Cuban official who was in discussion with the CIA.
But according to the Church committee’s report, the Cuban official did not think much of the device and complained that CIA could come up with something more sophisticated.
Even worse, the timing was awful. The Cuban official was offered the pen on November 22, 1963, the date of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Following the assassination, the agency withdraw its support on the assassination attempts and the Cuban official never took the pen to Cuba.
The Deadly Lover
In 1959, just after Castro rose to power, CIA hired Castro’s femme fatale, Marita Lorenz. She was given two botulism-toxin pills and instructed to drop them in Castro’s drink. One would kill him in 30 seconds.
But she got cold feet. Speaking about it years later, Marita said, “I knew the minute I saw the outline of Havana I couldn’t do it”.
And even if she wanted to kill him, she stashed the pills in a cold-cream jar that made them gunky and unusable.
Finally, Castro had her rumbled. She said, “He leaned over, pulled out his .45 and handed it to me. He didn’t even flinch. And he said, you cannot kill me. Nobody can kill me. And he kind of smiled and chewed on his cigar. I felt deflated. He was so sure of me. He just grabbed me and we made love”.