Fidel Castro, the controversial revolutionary leader who ruled Cuba for 49 years, has died at the age of 90, Cuban state television announced. He rose to power in 1959 after a coup d’etat ando transformed Cuba into the first communist country in the Western Hemisphere, only handing over to his brother Raul in 2008.
An iconic bearded figure holding a cigar, Castro promised the masses democracy and social justice, but lost traction when his regime proved repressive and dictatorial. While acclaimed for inspiring the anti-imperialism and anti-colonial movements that swept the world in the latter half of the 20th century, and later leading the Non-Aligned Group, at home, he threw thousands of political dissidents into jail and forced a million people to flee Cuba.
In the 1960s, he allowed Nikita Krushchev to deploy Soviet nuclear missiles pointing at the United States on the island, saying the Cuban people were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of destroying imperialism. For two weeks, in 1962, the world veered closer to nuclear war than ever before or since. But then, John Kennedy forced the Soviet leader to back down and remove the missiles.
Castro’s sympathy for the Arab world’s war on Israel in the last decades of the past century has never made waves. In fact, he sent Cuban troops to fight with the Syrian army against Israel on the Golan front in 1973 shortly after the Yom Kippur war. The Russians airlifted a Cuban brigade from Angola to southern Syria to take part in the Syrian war of attrition against Israel. The Cubans were there for three months.