Fidel Castro was born in Oriente, Eastern Cuba, in 1926 and grew up to become the most famous champion of socialism in the world. He also got himself lots of enemies and friends in the process. In 1958 Castro led a guerilla movement to overthrow the government of the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Under Fidel Castro’s rule, several improvements came to Cuban healthcare and education sectors in a bid to overwrite the wrongs of the previous governments. His authoritarian rule, however, got in the way of his fame most of the time.
In failing health, Fidel Castro officially handed over power to his brother Raúl Castro in 2008, but still wielded some political influence in Cuba and abroad. Fidel Castro died on November 25, 2016, aged 90. News of Fidel Castro’s death kept making headlines as leaders all over the world responded to his death with varied reactions. The United States President, Donald Trump, said: “Today marks the passing of a dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.” On the contrary, the Canadian Prime Minister said, “Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for nearly a half a century.” Such is the divided opinion people had on Fidel Castro all over the world.
He was close friends with Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela is by far one of the most famous freedom fighters for his role in the liberation of South Africa from Apartheid. Despite becoming the friend of most western regimes after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela wasn’t so famous while leading the African opposition. Margret Thatcher called him a terrorist while the FBI put him on the US terrorist watch list. Nelson Mandela, in his book The Long Walk To Freedom, said that Fidel Castro inspired him.
Mandela even visited Cuba after his release from prison and said that Africa owed a great debt to Cuba. Fidel Castro had sent his forces then located in Angola to help the ANC armed resistance fight the apartheid government. At the end of their lives, the two leaders left two different legacies with Castro labelled, a power-hungry dictator in the US, while Mandela was called the hero of democracy in Africa.
He was once considered a hero in the US
When Fidel Castro overthrew Batista’s regime in 1959, he wasn’t the enemy of America yet. The US government had backed the Batista regime and bombed Fidel Castro’s forces, but it was willing to work with him when he finally overthrew Batista. American TV stations flocked Havana in the wake of Castro’s victory to get interviews with him. Ed Sullivan, a famous host of the really big show, even said that Fidel Castro was Cuba’s George Washington.
At the time, Fidel Castro said that Americans were good people. However, in a bid to institute land reforms, Fidel Castro was forced to take land forcefully from American companies, including the American Fruit Company. The mining and sugar companies owned vast properties in Cuba and paid meagre wages. Fidel Castro then declared himself a Marxist and gave mining rights to USSR companies and started selling Cuban Sugar to the Soviet Union. That is how he became a sworn enemy of the US
He was the third longest-serving head of state
Fidel Castro managed to survive six different US administrations despite their open hatred for him. He also went down in history as one of the world’s longest-serving heads of states in the modern era. His long life was a miracle in itself, considering the number of enemies he had trying to kill him all his life. When he took power in 1958, he was only 32 years old. He became Cuba’s president in the year 1976, after being the prime minister for 15 years.
Despite several attempts by the CIA to undermine his rule and oust him, he was able to stay on as Cuba’s head of state until 2006 when he stepped down. His de facto rule was outlasted only by the queen of England and the King of Thailand. Under his half-a-century-long reign in Cuba, the nation saw massive improvements, although his loyalty to socialism later ruined the economy.
He was the father of the famous Latin America literacy revolution
In September 1960, Fidel Castro announced that he had an ambitious plan to create a society with equal access to education through a literacy campaign. The Cuban literacy campaign sought to abolish illiteracy in Cuba. It united the entire Cuban population: young and old, the rich and the poor, and everyone willing to get an education. It also created a lot of jobs where over 260,000 teachers were employed across the country.
The campaign was a remarkable success that saw over 707,000 adults being taught to read and write, a chance the previous dictatorship never gave them. His campaign managed to raise the literacy rate of Cuba to a remarkable 96% making Cuba one of the most educated countries in the world. The literacy campaign began on January 1 and ended on December 22, 1961. This made it the world’s most ambitious and organized literacy campaign. Fidel Castro’s literacy program was also replicated in Brazil, Argentina, and other parts of Latin America.
He holds the record for the longest speech ever delivered.
Fidel Castro was a fluent speaker who could attract the attention of a large crowd for long, allowing him to deliver history’s longest speeches. Fidel Castro holds the Guinness Book of Record title for the longest speech ever to be delivered at the United Nations. On September 29, 1960, the vocal leader’s speech lasted a record 4 hours and 29 minutes.
His record in Cuban soil lasted a ridiculous 7 hours 30 minutes On February 24, 1998, after he was re-elected for another 5-year term as the president. To put this into perspective, the amount of time his speech lasted would have allowed you to watch nearly four soccer matches and probably catch a movie on the side.
He survived over 600 assassination attempts
Fidel Castro was an enemy of US presidents from all sides of the divide from Eisenhower to George Bush. US dislike for Castro peaked when he allowed the Soviet Union to plant Nuclear Missiles in Havana in the early 60s, just 100 miles off the US coast pushing the whole world to the brink of a nuclear war. The assassination attempts on his life were, however, more dramatic as the CIA employed lots of dirty tricks to kill him.
Castro claimed that he survived 634 assassination attempts mainly plotted by the Central Intelligence Agency. They included a toxic cigar, poison pills, a bomb planted in a beautiful seashell, and a poisoned pen, which the CIA was busy executing when President Kennedy was assassinated. He jokingly said, “If surviving assassinations were an Olympic event, I would win the gold.”
He gave up cigars in 1985
Fidel Castro is well known for his fat brown El Laguito Cuban Cigars, a habit that made the cigars a global brand. The cigar was the most iconic symbol of Fidel Castro, followed by his guerilla uniform. What most people don’t know is that he gave up his cigars long before his death. In 1985, on medical grounds, he gave up smoking cigars. He decided to denounce the habit he was fond of, especially when he was a guerrilla fighter.
He actually managed to set a good example for the young Cuban population. Fidel Castro had started smoking when he was 14 years old but came to realize, later on, that it was detrimental to his health. He is fondly quoted saying, “The best thing you can do with this box of cigars is to give it to your enemies.”
He wrote a letter to President Roosevelt at the age of 12
In 1940, 12-year-old Fidel Castro wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and requested him a $10 bill because he had never seen it before. At that time, Castro’s allowance was only 80 cents per month, and he saw an opportunity to increase his income by writing to the president. In the letter, he refers to President Roosevelt as his good friend and is happy to write to him since he had been hearing him over the radio.
Despite his poor English, he was able to convey his message to the president. Whether or not the letter reached the head of state is something we’ll all be left guessing. Such confidence exhibited by Fidel Castro is certainly the key characteristic that propelled him to become the leader he was eventually.
Castro Was Not His Original Surname
Fidel Castro was born Fidel Ruz to the maid of Angel Castro, a rich sugarcane farm owner in Biran, eastern Cuba. Fidel’s mother, Lina Ruz, had an affair with Fidel’s Dad. His family was a staunch catholic one, and Angel couldn’t marry Lina without dissolving his first marriage, forcing Fidel to adopt his mother’s maiden name instead.
He was educated in Jesuit boarding schools and later transferred to a private school, which was a huge privilege in Cuba at that time. When Fidel was 17, his father decided to formalize his union with Lina. Fidel was then allowed to use the name Castro, and that is how the famous revolutionary leader finally got his name.
He was a womanizer
One aspect of Fidel Castro’s life that he managed to keep a perfect secret was his love life. He was a women’s guy with lots of mistresses apart from his two known marriages. His first wife was called Mirta Diaz-Balart while his second wife, a teacher, was called Dalia Soto del Valle. He had known affairs with two other women; Natalia Revuelta and his private secretary, Celia Sanchez.
Fidel Castro also had mistresses who included: Juana Vera, who was his interpreter, Gladys, who was a Cuban flight attendant, and Pillar, who was a French interpreter. Out of these affairs, Fidel Castro has 11 children, at least those that are publicly known. Castro undoubtedly had other children and mistresses, which most people are unaware of. He, however, separated his personal life from politics, and it did not stand in the way of his popularity.