Castro Ruz, Fidel
(b. 13 Aug. 1927).
Prime Minister of Cuba 1959–76; President 1976–
A trained lawyer who assisted the poor, he was imprisoned after leading an abortive revolt on 26 July 1953. Released after a general amnesty in 1955, he went to Mexico, where he gathered and trained a group of about eighty resistance fighters, including his brother, Raul, and Che Guevara. They returned to Cuba secretly on 2 December 1956, and subsequently waged guerrilla warfare against the hated Batista dictatorship. Castro called for an all‐out popular insurrection against the regime in March 1958. Throughout this period of guerrilla warfare and after, his authority was based on unrivalled leadership skills, charisma, and fabrication of myth. His 1953 group of fighters became the romantic ‘26 July movement’, while his guerrilla campaign from 1956 onwards transformed him into some latter‐day Robin Hood in the popular image.
After his triumphant entry into Havana as the great liberator on 9 January 1959 he thrived on his ability to stand up to the USA, which had backed Batista and the country's corrupt wealthy elites. This image was greatly enhanced by clumsy CIA attacks on his life (such as the dispatch of explosive cigars for his use) and the abortive US‐sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. As a legend in his own time, therefore, he has been able to remain leader of his country despite numerous economic failures. Castro's authority survived unscathed the collapse from 1989 of Communist Eastern Europe and the USSR, which had sustained significant parts of the Cuban economy. Although in the 1990s he did not change his anti‐American stance, he did soften his anti‐US and anti‐capitalist rhetoric in an effort to overcome his country's international isolation, especially from Canada and the European Union. Incapacitated by a mysterious illness since 2006, he nevertheless remained unchallenged as (nominal) Cuban leader. Indeed, his fame reached a new peak in old age, as a number of leftist popular leaders in Latin America, notably Chávez and the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, declared him their idol.