¡Gracias, Fidel!

After a long and very eventful life that saw him survive 638 assassination attempts from the world’s most dangerous secret service, the iconic revolutionary hero and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has died, aged 90.

The strongman would most likely be remembered for his fierce criticism of U.S. imperialism, his captivating speeches and his success in staving off attempts from opponents to remove him from power.

While most of Western media may focus their coverage of the death of Castro on his harsh approach of dealing with political opponents or the decline of the Cuban economy under his reign, a bright spot of his leadership was his dedication to put Cuba first.

As a young lawyer in the aftermath of the second world war, Castro spoke out against United States imperialism in his native Cuba. He was a fierce critic of then-president Fulgencio Batista – a U.S. puppet, becoming a recognisable leader among activists.

Initially, Castro sought to fight off Batista through judicial means – mounting several legal cases against injustices committed by his government. When none of which came to fruition, mainly due to a corrupt justice system, the lawyer sought alternative measures.

In 1952, the future Cuban leader liaised with other anti-Castro activists and formed a clandestine, underground rebel movement. Part of this movement was his own brother, Raul – who is currently the president of Cuba.

On the 26th of July, a band of more than a hundred armed activists stormed the military barracks of Moncada – engaging in a firefight with the Cuban army. The superiority in firepower of the army was too much for the rebels, 61 of them were killed with scores captured.

Those taken prisoner included Fidel and brother Raul. Many of the prisoners were tortured, extracting information of the attacks from them. Several were also executed without trial.

Suffering torture and witnessing many of his peers be put to death, Castro became cognizant of the brutality of the Batista government. He was released in 1955, after the Cuban government found him incapable of organizing such an elaborate rebellion.

Soon after his release, Fidel and his brother Raul escaped all over Latin America – particularly in Mexico, where the siblings would meet the infamous Che Guevarra.

The Argentine revolutionary was an avid Marxist, and perhaps one of the most iconic figureheads of anti-American sentiments throughout the world. He would also be a vital cog in Castro’s revolutionary machinery.

The Castro siblings and Guevarra would organize a revolutionary group in Miami, Florida. Their armed movement was mainly comprised of exiled Cuban political dissidents, all hell-bent on ousting the Batista government.

The group of 81 rebels, sailed from Miami in 1956 and swiftly began the Cuban revolution. Their support would grow among the rural poor, especially among peasants who were the most affected from the influence of foreign investors in Cuba.

Within three years, in 1959, the Cuban revolution declared victory as Fulgencio Batista fled to the United States in exile. Fidel Castro would become leader of the Caribbean island-nation for nearly five decades.

From the start, Fidel was an avowed anti-imperialist and a loud critic of the United States government. He was now backed by Che Guevarra, who as a Marxist was also antagonistic towards American interests.

Cuba would align with the Soviet-bloc during the Cold War, drawing anxieties from the U.S. since this country was a mere 90 nautical miles away from the major state of Florida.

Efforts to undermine the Castro leadership and to restore a U.S.-aligned government in power included the Bay of Pigs invasion and hundreds of assassination attempts on Fidel himself. None of these endeavors worked, however.

Instead, Castro would go down in history as one of the few world leaders who dared to stand up to the American government and retain power.

Motivated by his patriotic desire to have Cuban interests first in government, he defied a global superpower and was unapologetic of the reforms he pushed through. The world may not see any other.

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