In the death of legendary former Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro who defied US efforts to topple him for five decades, an era has come to an end. Fidel claimed he survived 634 attempts or plots to assassinate him, mainly masterminded by the Central Intelligence Agency and US-based exile organisations. The means used included poison pills, a toxic cigar, exploding molluscs, a chemically tainted diving suit and even an alleged plan that involved giving him powder that would make his beard fall out which symbolised his popularity.
Even as Western-style democracy swept the globe and other communist regimes in China and Vietnam embraced capitalism, the island of 11 million people stood rock-solid among the ruins of communism. Fidel Castro’s reign over the island 90 miles from Florida was marked by the US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Wearing green military fatigues, Fidel was famous for long, fist-pounding speeches filled with blistering rhetoric, often aimed at the US.
Under him, Cuba exported revolution across Latin America and around the globe, helping to ignite civil wars whose consequences are still felt today. To millions of his supporters, he was an icon of social justice who aimed to turn Cuba into a model of universal education and free health care for every citizen. But he was reviled by countless others, who saw him as an unrepentant tyrant. He would only relent in 2008, when he transferred the presidency to his brother Raul.
At the age of 32, Fidel played a crucial role in the Cuban Revolution that overthrew Cuban President Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Soon thereafter, he established strong diplomatic and economic ties to the Soviet Union, which caused friction between Cuba and the US. As a result, the US placed a number of trade and travel restrictions on Cuba. The biggest crisis of the Cold War between Washington and Moscow exploded on Oct. 22, 1962, when President John Kennedy announced there were Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and imposed a naval blockade of the island. Following a tense week of diplomacy, Soviet leader Krushchev removed them.
It was in December 2014 that after nearly five decades of acrimony, President Barack Obama lifted a number of the restrictions on Cuba. He was also the first US president to visit the island country in 88 years when he visited in March this year.