Sunday 26 February 2017

Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro dies aged 90

Independent.ie Newsdesk and Agencies

Cuban Former President Fidel Castro and inset brother Raul announcing news of his death
Cuban Former President Fidel Castro and inset brother Raul announcing news of his death

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has died aged 90, the Communist revolutionary's brother, President Raul Castro, has announced.

Castro had been in poor health since an intestinal ailment nearly killed him in 2006 and he formally ceded power to his younger brother two years later.

Cuba's President Raul Castro announces the death of his brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in a still image from government television in Havana, Cuba November 26, 2016. Cuban Television via Reuters TV
Cuba's President Raul Castro announces the death of his brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in a still image from government television in Havana, Cuba November 26, 2016. Cuban Television via Reuters TV
Cuban leader Fidel Castro greeted by United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali on his arrival at Bella center conference hall in Copenhagen. Picture: AFP PHOTO / GERARD FOUETGERARD FOUET/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on April 2, 1989 shows Cuban president Fidel Castro (L) welcoming General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev (R) during the official ceremony for Gorbachev's arrival in Havana, on April 2, 1989. Fidel Castro died on November 26, 2016 according to a statement from the President of Cuba, Raul Castro. / AFP PHOTO / ROBERT SULLIVAN AND -ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on May 13, 2002 shows Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) calling for time as former US president Jimmy Carter (R) prepares to throw the first pitch in a baseball game 14 May 2002 in Havana. Cuban revolutionary icon Fidel Castro died late on November 25, 2016 in Havana, his brother, President Raul Castro, announced on national television. / AFP PHOTO / ADALBERTO ROQUEADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on January 26, 2001 shows Cuban President Fidel Castro waving a flag during a visit 27 January, 2001, to the Havana neighborhood of San Jose de las Lajas. Cuban revolutionary icon Fidel Castro died late on November 25, 2016 in Havana, his brother, President Raul Castro, announced on national television. / AFP PHOTO / ADALBERTO ROQUEADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo released by Cuban website Cubadebate.cu taken on September 20, 2015 shows Cuban former president Fidel Castro (R) shaking hands with Pope Francis in Havana on September 20, 2015. Cuban revolutionary icon Fidel Castro died late on November 25, 2016 in Havana, his brother, President Raul Castro, announced on national television. / AFP PHOTO / CUBADEBATE / HOHO/AFP/Getty Images

Wearing an olive coloured military uniform, Raul Castro appeared on state television to announce his brother's death.

"At 10.29 in the night, the chief commander of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, died," he said.

"Ever onward, to victory."

Castro's remains will be cremated on Saturday, according to his wishes.

Irish president Michael D Higgins has led the tributes to Castro describing him as "a giant among global leaders".

"I have learned with great sadness of the death of Fidel Castro, founder of modern Cuba, and its Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976, as well as its President from 1976 to 2008," he said in a statement.

"Fidel Castro will be remembered as a giant among global leaders whose view was not only one of freedom for his people but for all of the oppressed and excluded peoples on the planet.”

Tributes came in from allies, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Venezuela's socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who said "revolutionaries of the world must follow his legacy."

Although Raul Castro always glorified his older brother, he has changed Cuba since taking over by introducing market-style economic reforms and agreeing with the United States in December 2014 to re-establish diplomatic ties and end decades of hostility.

Fidel Castro offered only lukewarm support for the deal, raising questions about whether he approved of ending hostilities with his longtime enemy.

Prime Minister of Cuba Fidel Castro (L), wearing a beret, is shown in file photo dated, accompanied by Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticos (C) and Ernesto Che Guevara, Minister of Industry applauding the May Day parade in the official Tribune in Havana. Picture: AFP PHOTO / --/AFP/Getty Images
Prime Minister of Cuba Fidel Castro (L), wearing a beret, is shown in file photo dated, accompanied by Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticos (C) and Ernesto Che Guevara, Minister of Industry applauding the May Day parade in the official Tribune in Havana. Picture: AFP PHOTO / --/AFP/Getty Images

He did not meet Barack Obama when he visited Havana earlier this year, the first time a U.S. president had stepped foot on Cuban soil since 1928.

Days later, Castro wrote a scathing newspaper column condemning Obama's "honey-coated" words and reminding Cubans of the many U.S. efforts to overthrow and weaken the Communist government.

The news of Castro's death spread slowly among Friday night revelers on the streets of Havana. One famous club that was still open when word came in quickly closed.

Some residents reacted with sadness to the news.

"I'm very upset. Whatever you want to say, he is a public figure that the whole world respected and loved," said Havana student Sariel Valdespino.

But in Miami, where many exiles from Castro's Communist government live, a large crowd waving Cuban flags cheered, danced and banged on pots and pans.

Castro's body will be cremated, according to his wishes. His brother said details of his funeral would be given on Saturday.

Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during interviews with the press during a visit of U.S. Senator Charles McGovern, in Havana in this May 1975 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during interviews with the press during a visit of U.S. Senator Charles McGovern, in Havana in this May 1975 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro looks at the crowd during a mass rally in Cordoba, Argentina July 21, 2006. REUTERS/Andres Stapff/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro fights a yawn on the first day of the VII Ibero-American summit on Margarita Island in this November 8, 1997 file photo. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro relaxes in a swimming pool during a visit to Romania in this May 28, 1972 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) and then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (L) exchange documents during a treaty signing ceremony in Havana in this April 4, 1989 file photo. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn/File Photo
Pope Benedict XVI meets former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana in this March 28, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Alex Castro-Cubadebate/Handout/File Photo
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) visits his then Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro in Havana in this August 13, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Estudios Revolucion-Granma/Handout/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during a meeting of the National Assembly in Havana, in this December 2, 1976 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (C) casts his ballot at a polling station in Havana in this February 3, 2013 file photo provided by Cubadebate. REUTERS/Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate/Handout/File Photo
Former South African President Nelson Mandela (L) hugs Cuba's President Fidel Castro during a visit to Mandela's home in Houghton, Johannesburg in this September 2, 2001 file photo. REUTERS/Chris Kotze/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (L) talk during a meeting in Havana in this March 30, 2011 file photo. The woman in the center is a translator. REUTERS/Alex Castro/Courtesy of Cubadebate/Handout/File Photo
Ernesto Che Guevara (front) plays golf as Fidel Castro stands behind him at Colina Villareal in Havana in this undated file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) winks at a woman at the graduation of hundreds of Cuban art students at Havana's Sports City in this October 28, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during an event with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez on Havana's Revolution Square in this February 3, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro listens during a meeting with his brother Cuban President Raul Castro (R) and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (L) in Havana in this June 17, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Estudios Revolucion/Handout/File Photo
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and then Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) listen to the Cuban national anthem at the baseball stadium "Latinoamericano" in Havana in this May 14, 2002 file photo. REUTERS/Rafael Perez/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro walks to the podium during the May Day commemoration ceremony in Revolution Square in Havana in this May 1, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro salutes as the national anthem plays during a reception for the Cuban baseball team in Havana in this March 21, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro talks to then Pope John Paul II during the presentation of their delegations at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana in this January 22, 1998 file photo. REUTERS/Paul Hanna/File Photo
People are seen through a poster with a picture of Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro and late Argentine revolution leader Che Guevara (L) during the May Day parade in Havana's Revolution Square in this May 1, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
Fidel Castro (L) is seen during a hunting trip in Romania in this May 1972 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro (L) talks to Elian Gonzalez during a political rally in celebration of Elian's 12th birthday in Cardenas, Cuba in this December 6, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro acknowledges the applause of the audience while standing underneath an image of late revolutionary hero Ernesto Che Guevara, during the inauguration of games involving mainly Cuban and Venezuelan athletes in Havana in this June 17, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (L) holds up the arm of his brother, Cuba's President Raul Castro, during the closing ceremony of the sixth Cuban Communist Party (PCC) congress in Havana in this April 19, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro attends manoeuvres during the 19th anniversary of his and his fellow revolutionaries arrival on the yacht Granma, in Havana in this November 1976 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro plays baseball in Havana in this August 1964 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during an anti-Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) meeting in Havana in this April 28, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/Files
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during a political rally in celebration of the 12th birthday of Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez in Cardenas in this December 6, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro laughs during the year-end session of the Cuban parliament in Havana in this December 23, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez chat on the field after taking part in a friendly baseball game between their two countries at the Barquisimeto baseball stadium in this October 29, 2000 file photo. Picture taken October 29, 2000. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/Files
Cuba's President Fidel Castro attends a Mercosur trade bloc summit in Cordoba, Argentina in this July 21, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/David Mercado/File Photo
Cuba's President Fidel Castro gestures during a tour of Paris in this March 15, 1995 file photo. Ailing Cuban leader Castro said on February 19, 2008 that he will not return to lead the country, retiring as head of state 49 years after he seized power in an armed revolution. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro speaks during celebrations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) in Havana in this September 28, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) and Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona play with a ball during an interview in La Havana, in this October 26, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Canal 13/Handout/File Photo
Iin this Feb. 6, 1959 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro speaks to a crowd during his triumphant march to Havana after the fall of the Batista regime. Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, on state television. (AP Photo/File)
Fidel Castro, left, raises his brother's hand, Cuba's President Raul Castro, center, as they sing the anthem of international socialism during the 6th Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba.(AP Photo/Javier Galeano, File)
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro glances over his shoulder during the May Day commemoration at Revolution Square in Havana, in this May 1, 2004 file photo. Picture taken May 1, 2004. REUTERS/Rafael Perez/Files
Cuba's President Fidel Castro addresses the crowd at the Plaza de la Patria (Homeland Square) in Bayamo, Cuba, July 26, 2006. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro listens to a speaker during the May Day parade in Havana's Revolution Square in this May 1, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (L) and his Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro joke after joining their medallions, given by medical graduates, at Havana's Karl Marx theatre, in this August 20, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience as president of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations in New York, in this October 12, 1979 file photo. REUTERS/Prensa Latina/File Photo
Then Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez joke during a batting session where Chavez pitched to Castro after taking part in a friendly baseball game between their two countries at the Barquisimeto baseball stadium in this October 29, 2000 file photo. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/File Photo
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro attends the closing ceremony of the sixth Cuban Communist Party (PCC) congress in Havana in this April 19, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan/File Photo
In this March 14, 1957 file photo, Fidel Castro, the young anti-Batista guerrilla leader, center, is seen with his brother Raul Castro, left, and Camilo Cienfuegos, right, while operating in the Mountains of Eastern Cuba. Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro at age 90 on Cuban state media on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew St. George, File)
In this Aug.18, 1999 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro gestures at a speaking event as he explains that he does not understand why he is not blind after all the camera flashes he has received in Havana, Cuba. Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, on state television. (AP Photo/Jose Goitia, File)
In this April 19, 2016 file photo, Fidel Castro attends the last day of the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba. Fidel Castro formally stepped down in 2008 after suffering gastrointestinal ailments and public appearances have been increasingly unusual in recent years. Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro at age 90 on Cuban state media on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. (Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate via AP, File)
China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (L) writes in a notebook as former Cuban leader Fidel Castro holds it during a meeting in Havana in this August 1, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Roberto Chile/File Photo
Cuban President Fidel Castro attends a conference on terrorism in Havana's convention centre June 3, 2005. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/File Photo
Cuba's President Raul Castro announces the death of his brother, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, in a still image from government television in Havana, Cuba November 26, 2016. Cuban Television via Reuters TV
FILE - In this Jan. 25, 1998 file photo, Cuba's leader Fidel Castro, left, greets former Pope John Paul II at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother Raul, who announced his death late Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, on state television. (AP Photo/Ruth Fremson, File)

The bearded Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and ruled Cuba for 49 years with a mix of charisma and iron will, creating a one-party state and becoming a central figure in the Cold War.

He was demonized by the United States and its allies but admired by many leftists around the world, especially socialist revolutionaries in Latin America and Africa.

After Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 1990, he repeatedly thanked Castro for his firm efforts to weaken apartheid.

In April, in a rare public appearance at the Communist Party conference, Fidel Castro shocked party apparatchiks by referring to his own imminent mortality.

"Soon I will be like all the rest. Our turn comes to all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban communists will remain," he said.

Castro was last seen by ordinary Cubans in photos showing him engaged in conversation with the Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang earlier this month.

Cuban former president Fidel Castro (R) shaking hands with Pope Francis in Havana on September 20, 2015. Picture: AFP PHOTO / CUBADEBATE / HOHO/AFP/Getty Images
Cuban former president Fidel Castro (R) shaking hands with Pope Francis in Havana on September 20, 2015. Picture: AFP PHOTO / CUBADEBATE / HOHO/AFP/Getty Images

Transforming Cuba from a playground for rich Americans into a symbol of resistance to Washington, Castro crossed swords with 10 U.S. presidents while in power and outlasted nine of them.

He fended off a CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 as well as countless assassination attempts.

His alliance with Moscow helped trigger the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a 13-day showdown with the United States that brought the world the closest it has been to nuclear war.

Wearing green military fatigues and chomping on cigars for many of his years in power, Castro was famous for long, fist-pounding speeches filled with blistering rhetoric, often aimed at the United States.

At home, he swept away capitalism and won support for bringing schools and hospitals to the poor. But he also created legions of enemies and critics, concentrated among the exiles in Miami who fled his rule and saw him as a ruthless tyrant.

"With Castro's passing, some of the heat may go out of the antagonism between Cuba and the United States, and between Cuba and Miami, which would be good for everyone," said William M. LeoGrande, co-author of a book on U.S.-Cuba relations.

However, it is not clear if U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump will continue to normalize relations with Cuba, or revive tensions and fulfill a campaign promise to close the U.S. embassy in Havana once again.

Castro's death - which would once have thrown a question mark over Cuba's future - seems unlikely to trigger a crisis as Raul Castro is firmly ensconced in power.

In his final years, Fidel Castro no longer held leadership posts. He wrote newspaper commentaries on world affairs and occasionally met with foreign leaders but he lived in semi-seclusion.

Still, the passing of the man known to most Cubans as "El Comandante" - the commander - or simply "Fidel" leaves a huge void in the country he dominated for so long. It also underlines the generational change in Cuba's communist leadership.

Raul Castro vows to step down when his term ends in 2018 and the Communist Party has elevated younger leaders to its Politburo, including 56-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, who is first vice-president and the heir apparent.

Others in their 50s include Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and economic reform czar Marino Murillo.

The reforms have led to more private enterprise and the lifting of some restrictions on personal freedoms but they aim to strengthen Communist Party rule, not weaken it.

"I don't think Fidel's passing is the big test. The big test is handing the revolution over to the next generation and that will happen when Raul steps down," Cuba expert Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute in Virginia said before Castro's death.

REVOLUTIONARY ICON

A Jesuit-educated lawyer, Fidel Castro led the revolution that ousted U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista on Jan 1, 1959. Aged 32, he quickly took control of Cuba and sought to transform it into an egalitarian society.

His government improved the living conditions of the very poor, achieved health and literacy levels on a par with rich countries and rid Cuba of a powerful Mafia presence.

But he also tolerated little dissent, jailed opponents, seized private businesses and monopolized the media.

Castro's opponents labeled him a dictator and hundreds of thousands fled the island.

"The dictator Fidel Castro has died, the cause of many deaths in Cuba, Latin American and Africa," Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the island's largest dissident group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, said on Twitter.

Many dissidents settled in Florida, influencing U.S. policy toward Cuba and plotting Castro's demise. Some even trained in the Florida swamps for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.

But they could never dislodge him.

Castro claimed he survived or evaded hundreds of assassination attempts, including some conjured up by the CIA.

In 1962, the United States imposed a damaging trade embargo that Castro blamed for most of Cuba's ills, using it to his advantage to rally patriotic fury.

Over the years, he expanded his influence by sending Cuban troops into far-away wars, including 350,000 to fight in Africa. They provided critical support to a left-wing government in Angola and contributed to the independence of Namibia in a war that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

He also won friends by sending tens of thousands of Cuban doctors abroad to treat the poor and bringing young people from developing countries to train them as physicians

'HISTORY WILL ABSOLVE ME'

Born on August 13, 1926 in Biran in eastern Cuba, Castro was the son of a Spanish immigrant who became a wealthy landowner.

Angry at social conditions and Batista's dictatorship, Fidel Castro launched his revolution on July 26, 1953, with a failed assault on the Moncada barracks in the eastern city of Santiago.

"History will absolve me," he declared during his trial for the attack.

He was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released in 1955 after a pardon that would come back to haunt Batista.

Castro went into exile in Mexico and prepared a small rebel army to fight Batista. It included Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who became his comrade-in-arms.

In December 1956, Castro and a rag-tag band of 81 followers sailed to Cuba aboard a badly overloaded yacht called "Granma".

Only 12, including him, his brother and Guevara, escaped a government ambush when they landed in eastern Cuba.

Taking refuge in the rugged Sierra Maestra mountains, they built a guerrilla force of several thousand fighters who, along with urban rebel groups, defeated Batista's military in just over two years.

Early in his rule, at the height of the Cold War, Castro allied Cuba to the Soviet Union, which protected the Caribbean island and was its principal benefactor for three decades.

The alliance brought in $4 billion worth of aid annually, including everything from oil to guns, but also provoked the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when the United States discovered Soviet missiles on the island.

Convinced that the United States was about to invade Cuba, Castro urged the Soviets to launch a nuclear attack.

Cooler heads prevailed. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. President John F. Kennedy agreed the Soviets would withdraw the missiles in return for a U.S. promise never to invade Cuba. The United States also secretly agreed to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey.

'SPECIAL PERIOD'

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, an isolated Cuba fell into a deep economic crisis that lasted for years and was known as the "special period". Food, transport and basics such as soap were scarce and energy shortages led to frequent and long blackouts.

Castro undertook a series of tentative economic reforms to get through the crisis, including opening up to foreign tourism.

The economy improved when Venezuela's late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, who looked up to Castro as a hero, came to the rescue with cheap oil. Aid from communist-run China also helped, but an economic downturn in Venezuela since Chavez's death in 2013 have raised fears it will scale back its support for Cuba.

Plagued by chronic economic problems, Cuba's population of 11 million has endured years of hardship, although not the deep poverty, violent crime and government neglect of many other developing countries.

For most Cubans, Fidel Castro has been the ubiquitous figure of their entire life.

Many still love him and share his faith in a communist future, and even some who abandoned their political belief still view him with respect. But others see him as an autocrat and feel he drove the country to ruin.

Cubans earn on average the equivalent of $20 a month and struggle to make ends meet even in an economy where education and health care are free and many basic goods and services are heavily subsidized.

It was never clear whether Fidel Castro fully backed his brother's reform efforts of recent years. Some analysts believed his mere presence kept Raul from moving further and faster while others saw him as either quietly supportive or increasingly irrelevant.

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