Castro was born on August 13, 1926, on his father’s sugar plantation near Biran on the northern coast of Oriente Province. The province had been under US influence since before Castro’s birth. Angel, Castro’s father, was originally from Galicia, Spain. His mother was a Cuban Creole whose family was also from Galicia. She and Castro’s youngest sister, Juanita, assisted anti-Castro groups. These activities were overlooked by Castro. After his mother died in 1965, Castro arranged for Juanita to go to the United States. Castro had seven brothers and sisters, as well as a half brother and sister. The most important of these was Raul, who was four years younger, and has been with Fidel since the attack on the Moncada Barracks.
At an early age, Castro was sent off to school in Santiago where he stayed with godparents who mistreated him. His first memory of an event that “left a lasting impression” on him concerning the brutal nature of politics in Cuba occurred in Santiago. In 1942, a tall, heavy and powerfully built Castro attended Colegio de Belen, the prestigious Jesuit preparatory school located in Havana where his best subjects were agriculture, Spanish and history. He started studying law at the University of Havana in 1945. This period of Castro’s life is very controversial and it is difficult to separate myth from reality. It was during this time that he became politically active.
The events early in his life shaped Castro’s struggle with Batista from the attack on Moncada to prison on the Isle of Pines to the Sierra Maestra to his arrival in Havana. They shaped his revolution once he was in power. The athletic and charismatic Castro was mischievous, rebellious, calculating and opportunistic. He never accepted defeat—it was only a temporary setback. He was both an idealist and a pragmatist. Castro had a flare for the dramatic and an intuitive sense of the importance of public relations and the use of the media to his advantage. He was somewhat of a loner and rarely confided completely in anyone. He typically learned by trial and error.
The charismatic Castro had come to dominate the political scene like no Cuban leader before him. He defied the United States and created the first communist government in the Western Hemisphere, although it clearly reflected his own revolutionary design and imprint. A socialist economy was developed with programs designed specifically to redistribute wealth and address the needs of the poor majority in Cuba.
Fidel was Cuba’s de facto leader for 46 years. In 2006, forced by his ailing health, Castro retired and handed Cuba’s destiny to his brother Raul. Raul Castro became president in 2008 and launched a series of slow-moving and limited socio-economic reforms. Fidel Castro died in 2016 at age 90. As of 2017 Raul Castro announced he would be stepping down as president.