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Cuban leader Fidel Castro dead at 90

November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro, the controversial Cuban leader who seized power in 1959 and ruled over the communist state for the following five decades, has died aged 90.

Castro came to power as a charismatic guerrilla leader after his army of revolutionaries marched into Havana 49 years ago when he was just 32 years old.

His younger bother, Raúl Castro, who took over as president of the Caribbean island in 2008, announced that the older Castro had died on Friday. Cuba will now hold a nine-day period of mourning, before a funeral is held on December 4.

The 85-year-old said on state television following his brother’s death: “At 10.29 at night, the chief commander of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, died. Ever onward, to victory.”

Castro was a divisive figure who initially won admiration from many on the left after his successful revolution and his military victory following US president John Kennedy’s attempt to remove him in 1961 at the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuban exiles.

But he has also been criticised as an autocratic and repressive leader, who treated opponents brutally and did not hold an election during his five decades in power.

The response from world leaders and senior political figures on Saturday was mixed, although many recognised the influential role Castro played in global politics over the past 60 years.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said via Twitter: “Fidel Castro was one of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century. India mourns the loss of a great friend.”

“Fidel Castro was a sincere and reliable friend of Russia. He embodied the high ideals of a politician, a citizen and a patriot sincerely convinced of the rightness of the cause to which he dedicated his whole life”, said Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Fidel Castro was an example of the fight for the people’s of the world. We’ll go forward with his legacy,” Venezuela’s socialist president Nicolás Maduro told leftwing television network Telesur.

Fidel Castro delivers a speech to Cuban youth at a ceremony to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution in Havana in 1989 © AFP

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, spoke of “deep sorrow” upon hearing of Castro’s death, adding that his father had been “very proud to call him a friend”.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, added: “Fidel Castro was one of the historic figures of the past century and the embodiment of the Cuban Revolution. The world has lost a man who was a hero for many. He changed the course of his country and his influence reached far beyond.”

However, others were swift to highlight Castro’s poor human rights record.

“The streets are so joyous because several generations of Cubans are celebrating the death of a dictator — not the death of a human being, but the death of a dictator,” Tomas Regalado, the mayor of Miami, Florida, which is home to approximately 500,000 Cubans, told reporters as he stood amid scenes of jubilation.

Members of the Cuban community and residents of Miami celebrate the death of Fidel Castro in Little Havana © EPA

“This is a dictator [who] has hurt the lives of at least four generations of Cubans inside and outside of the island. Most of the wounds have not healed yet.”

The EU’s trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, said on Twitter: “Fidel Castro was a dictator who oppressed his people for 50 years. Strange to hear all the tributes in the news today.”

Relations between the US and Cuba improved considerably since President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, leading to a diplomatic breakthrough between the two countries in 2014.

This involved the easing of trade, investment and financial services restrictions for US companies, which had been in place since 1961, although trade sanctions remained.

Mr Obama later made a historic visit to Cuba in 2016 — the first by a sitting US president since 1959.

Castro, however, remained mistrustful of the US, which hatched a number of alleged plots to try to assassinate the Cuban leader during his presidency. A few days after Mr Obama’s visit to Cuba, Castro wrote a scornful letter railing against the president and saying his country needed nothing from its longtime enemy.

Via FT