Name at birth: Fidel Alejandro Castro RuzBearded, charismatic and ruthless, Fidel Castro was the undisputed leader of Cuba from 1959 until 2008, when he stepped down after nearly 50 years in power. His revolutionary overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959 was one of the great Marxist victories of the modern era. Fidel Castro was born in Cuba, educated in Catholic schools and studied law at the University of Havana. In 1953 he was involved in a first unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Fulgencio Batista, whose official title was President of Cuba. Fidel Castro was imprisoned, then exiled to Mexico, but returned to Cuba in 1956 to again lead a new revolution. He joined forces with revolutionary Ernest "Che" Guevara and after a lengthy guerilla campaign, toppled Batista in 1959. Fidel Castro set up a Communist regime with himself as maximum leader, and spent the next several decades battling U.S. opposition (including assassination attempts and the famous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion ordered by John F. Kennedy), largely through the support of the Soviet Union. Over the years, Cuba's revolutionary fervor hardened into something more like a functioning-but-poor Communist state. Castro kept running Cuba along Communist and anti-American lines even after the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s. Among Castro's personal quirks was his penchant for lengthy orations; "His record, in 1968, was a meandering discourse that lasted nearly 12 hours," the Miami Herald reported after his death. Fidel Castro had intestinal surgery on July 31, 2006, and entrusted leadership to his younger brother Raúl Castro. It was the first time Fidel Castro had relinquished power. In 2008 he stepped down for good, announcing he would not accept reelection to the posts of president and commander in chief, and Raúl Castro became leader in his place. Fidel Castro died in 2016 at the age of 90.
Fidel Castro’s year of birth is officially listed as 1926, but some scholars believe that he was born in 1927. Peter G. Bourne’s 1986 book Fidel, for instance, suggests that his birthdate was pushed back to 1926 so that Fidel could be enrolled in school a year early. In his 1998 autobiography Fidel: My Early Years, Fidel Castro himself gives 1926 as the year, and continues: “I was 26 when I began the armed struggle, and I was born on the 13th, which is half of 26… Now that I think of it, there may be something mystical about the number 26.”