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FIDEL CASTRO RUZ

President Fidel Castro

Cuban President Fidel Castro is well known worlwide for the run-ins he has had with several US administrations ever since he took over power in 1959. A few people know that as a guerrilla leader in the 1950's he had the full backing of the United States, who helped him topple the government of Fulgencio Batista. However after Castro took over power in 1959, he adopted Communist policies and his government started seizing American corporations in Cuba for very little compensation. This led to his fallout with the US that has lasted ever since.

Its hard to imagine how Castro, President of a tiny island country just a few miles off the coast of the US State of Florida has managed to survive the various US administrations with his Communist policies since 1959. He has outlived many political pundits who never thought he would last this long as Cuban President just by his sheer proximity to the US. Efforts by the American CIA in collusion with Cuban dissidents resident in Miami, Florida to topple him have all failed and all indications are that the Cuban strongman might have to die in office.

While he is not much liked in the West, Castro is very popular in other parts of the world especially Africa, where he is known to have played an active role in the struggle against colonialism. He in particular was in the forefront during the struggle to release Nelson Mandela from prison and end apartheid in South Africa. To this day he continues to enjoy a very close relationship with Mandela.

Fidel Castro Ruz was born on August 13th 1926 in Mayari, located in Oriente Province of Cuba. His father, a Spanish immigrant, owned a 23,000 acre sugar plantation in Oriente Province. As a young boy, he helped out his father's plantation before beginning his elementary education at the age of 6. He attended Jesuit institutions, Colegio Lasalle and Colegio Dolores both in Santiago, Cuba before proceeding to Colegio Belen in 1942, a Jesuit Preparatory school. He graduated from Colegio Belen in 1945 and went on to University of Havana, where he obtained a Degree in Law in 1950. After graduating from the University of Havana, he practiced Law until 1952 when he decided to vie for the a parliamentary seat in the Cuban elections. Confident of a victory, his political ambitions were dealt a serious blow when the elections were cancelled after General Fulgencio Batista overthrew the government of then Cuban President Carlos Prio Socarras. The frustrated Castro legally challenged the constitutionality of the Batista government but to no avail. He thus resorted to a military attack on the Moncada Barracks in Oriente Province. This uprising was a total failure and resulted in massive casualties. Castro and his brother Raul were taken prisoners, only to be released on a general amnesty on May 15th 1955. After his release from prison, Castro went into exile in Mexico, where with the help of exiled Cuban dissidents he launched a guerrilla campaign against the Batista government. His guerrillas, with the backing of the United States finally toppled the the government of Fulgencio Batista, who fled Cuba on New Years Day 1959. On January 7th 1959, the US formally recognized the new government in Cuba and a month later, Castro became the Prime Minister.

This would mark the end of friendly relations between Cuba and the US because shortly after Castro got into power, his government adopted Communism and aligned itself with the Soviet Union. His government also started seizing American corporations for very little compensation. As a result, the US broke Diplomatic relations with Cuba. On April 17th 1961 during the now infamous Bay of Pigs fiasco, the American CIA organized about 1300 Cuban exiles to invade Cuba and topple the Castro government. The rationale behind this was that a destabilized and weakened Castro government would act as an incentive for the "many" dissidents in Cuba to rise up and revolt against him. This as we now know was a major miscalculation on the part of the Americans because Castro, with the help of loyal Cubans, severely crushed the uprising. Castro was not nearly as unpopular in Cuba as the Americans had thought. Then in October 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, the world almost came to a standstill under the threat of a looming military showdown between the the US and the USSR, the two world super-powers. The Americans discovered that the Soviets were planting long-range ballistic missiles in Cuba, which of course posed a major threat to US national security. US President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade on all vessels headed for the Cuban coast. Tensions between the US and the Soviets reached fever pitch as Soviet vessels headed for Cuba initially seemed to be ignoring the blockade, risking an attack by the American Navy. In a dramatic turn of events, the Soviet vessels began turning back, honouring the US blockade and avoiding an almost certain World War 3. Th blockade on Cuba was finally lifted when Soviet President Krushchev agreed to remove the Russian missiles from Cuba.

Castro's relations with the US have continued to be generally hostile and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, his country's economic position has been further weakened. As a result, the world has continued to witness scores of Cuban refugees risking their lives by taking to the seas in make-shift rafts with the hope of making it to the Floridian Coast.

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