CBS Evening News & Jack Epstein / San Francisco Chronicle – 2016-11-27 01:51:03
Fidel Castro’s Death Mostly Greeted with Sorrow around the World
CBS Evening News
Fidel Castro, Cuba’s Revolutionary Former Leader, Dies
Jack Epstein / San Francisco Chronicle
(November 26, 2016) –Fidel Castro, who led the revolution that brought communism to Cuba and ruled the Caribbean island nation with a paternalistic but iron-fisted tenacity for 47 years, has died at age 90, younger brother Raul Castro announced Friday.
With a shaking voice, President Raul Castro said on state television that Mr. Castro died at 10:29 p.m. Friday. He ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: “Towards victory, always!”
Mr. Castro was a thorn in the side of 11 American presidents, survived numerous assassination attempts, five decades of US trade embargoes and the demise of Cuba’s longtime patron the Soviet Union. Only Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, crowned in 1952, has been head of state longer.
Mr. Castro leaves a national legacy of nearly 100 percent literacy, a health system and life expectancy of 79 years on par with some developed countries, and athletes who are respected around the world. But he also leaves a nation suffering from endemic shortages, dilapidated housing, and a repressive security system.
Most experts have long said democracy would not come quickly in a post-Fidel era even after President Obama announced the historic shift that renewed diplomatic ties at the end of 2014 and visited the island two years later.
Mr. Castro handed the presidency to Raul Castro in 2006 after falling ill with a severe intestinal disease that he said later nearly killed him. It wasn’t until 2010 that Mr. Castro finally appeared in public. His health had been a state secret even while he wrote opinion pieces and reportedly retained veto powers over key issues.
Raul Castro, 85, has been called “the practical Castro.” Since assuming the presidency, he has allowed ordinary Cubans for the first time to buy computers and cell phones, sell and purchase cars, drive more private taxis, sell their own fruit and vegetables, leave the country without government permission, and receive credit from state banks for their farms and small businesses such as cafes and repair shops. Many experts believe he will eventually turn Cuba into a state-controlled capitalist nation similar to China.
After leading an armed revolution 63 years ago, Mr. Castro created a socialist state allied with Moscow in direct defiance of Washington. As he revolutionized Cuba, about 250,000 mostly wealthy or middle-class Cubans fled the island during the first three years of the revolution.
Many of them settled in Miami, where they became a powerful political force to maintain trade embargoes, first imposed in 1960 by President Dwight Eisenhower. The island has about 11.2 million inhabitants, with about 2 million Cubans living in exile, mostly in the United States.
Mr. Castro also will be remembered for allowing Moscow to plant missiles on Cuban soil, which nearly caused a nuclear confrontation between the two superpowers in 1962 that became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
At the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, Washington was so anxious to topple Mr. Castro that the CIA tried or sponsored many outlandish assassination attempts, which included poisoning his cigars, offering Chicago crime boss Sam Giancana $150,000 to find a hit man and creating a booby-trapped seashell that was designed to explode when removed from the ocean floor by Mr. Castro, an avid diver. “If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal,” Mr. Castro once said.
In April 2004, a Panamanian judge convicted four Cuban exiles in the latest known plot to kill Mr. Castro. They were convicted of smuggling 33 pounds of explosives into Panama with the intent of blowing up a university center where the Cuban leader was scheduled to speak.
Mr. Castro said he survived more than 600 attempts against his life, a claim that only increased his mystique as David fighting Goliath.
“I wasn’t a head of state as much as a very common man,” he said in 2000. “It’s the government of the United States that has converted me into what you call a myth, and if I have been one in life, it’s also thanks to their failures to deprive me” of life.
In the early days of the revolution, Mr. Castro constantly reminded Washington in speech after speech that the “Platt Amendment is finished,” a reference to the 1903 law that gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuban affairs to protect its independence after ending a three-year period of occupation.
Mr. Castro “wanted to free Cuba of US economic domination. In carrying out those objectives, he was inevitably going to clash with the US,” Wayne Smith, a former chief of the US Interests Section in Havana, has said. “Neither government was really interested in an accommodation or of finding a middle way.”
Part of Mr. Castro’s personality cult was based on his long, rambling speeches, which made him famous as one of the great orators of the 20th century. His discourses were aided by an incredible memory, honed as a law student when he forced himself to depend on his memory by destroying materials he had learned by heart.
He could speak for hours without text — his record was nine hours in 1959. As a shy young man, Mr. Castro had forced himself to speak in front of a mirror, but as a world leader, he relished addressing crowds as large as 1 million.
“You can fly twice around the world while I’m delivering my speech,” he once told Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
Mr. Castro maintained his image as the eternal guerrillero by keeping his beard, wearing olive-green military fatigues and black combat boots, and traveling in jeeps. He reportedly quit smoking cigars in 1985 and was known to sleep just a few hours a night.
To his supporters, he was a romantic figure, an idealist who corrected a litany of evils that afflicted his country and stood up to the hegemony of the United States. They always point out the revolution’s successes — literacy and infant mortality rates on a par with rich nations, universal health care and one of the world’s highest ratios of doctors to the population. The World Bank reported that in 2010 Cuba had 6.7 physicians per 1,000 inhabitants, the highest in the world.
But to his critics, those achievements came at the expense of the loss of individual freedoms. They characterized the Cuban leader as a power-hungry dictator who silenced his opposition with death or long prison sentences.
Tad Szulc, the late author of the acclaimed 1986 biography Fidel: A Critical Portrait, perhaps put it best:
Mr. Castro was a “man of panache, a romantic figure, an ever-defiant, dizzyingly imaginative, and unpredictable rebel, a marvelous actor, a spectacular teacher and preacher of the many credos he says he embraces,” he wrote. “Though his personal popularity in Cuba is immense, there is a segment of Cubans to whom Mr. Castro looms as a ruthless and cunning dictator, a cynical betrayer of liberal democracy in whose name he first rallied millions of Cubans to his cause and banner . . . the idolized object of a personality cult he needs as he needs the air he breathes.”
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born on Aug. 13, 1926, the fifth of nine children of Angel Castro, a Spanish immigrant, who arrived in Cuba as a penniless teenager in 1898 to join an uncle. A hard worker who rose at dawn every day, Angel Castro eventually became a rich sugar-plantation owner.
His mother, Lina Ruz Gonzales, worked as a maid in the Castro household during the elder Castro’s first marriage, which ended in divorce. The couple, who were both devout Roman Catholics, had seven children — Angela, Ramon, Fidel, Augustina, Raul, Emma and Juana, the latter defecting to the United States in 1965.
Mr. Castro and his siblings enjoyed a privileged childhood, studying at Jesuit boarding schools. Mr. Castro was said to be happiest outdoors, riding horses, swimming in the river, climbing hills or hunting with his dogs. But he also showed a political side at an early age when he tried to organize his father’s sugar workers to fight for higher wages and fought with him over the family’s “capitalism.” He was just 13.
Mr. Castro had another passion — sports. In 1944, he was voted the best high school athlete at the Colegio Belen school in Havana, excelling in track, ping pong and baseball as a baseball pitcher.
The next year, he entered Havana University law school, where he joined a reformist movement called the Cuban People’s Party that challenged government corruption and championed social justice. Like most student activists at that time, he received regular threats from government thugs and packed a gun on campus.
In 1947, Mr. Castro dropped his studies to join a group of Dominican exiles sailing to the Dominican Republic to start a revolution against that country’s long-standing dictator, Rafael Trujillo. The boat, however, was intercepted by the Cuban navy, and Mr. Castro jumped overboard to avoid arrest and swam 8 miles to shore. Two days later, he was back at the university, giving another antigovernment speech.
In 1948, the 21-year-old Mr. Castro took his first excursion abroad to Bogota, Colombia, to help organize a student congress. At the time, Colombia was in the midst of a bloody two-year civil war between traditional rivals, the Liberal and Conservative parties.
When Jorge Gaitan, the popular leader of the Liberal party’s progressive wing, was assassinated, Bogota erupted in open revolt and Mr. Castro took to the streets to join Gaitan supporters. The Bogotazo, as it became known, began a decade of violence that eventually would kill 200,000 people.
After his return from Colombia, Mr. Castro married Mirta Diaz Balart, a philosophy student from a wealthy family whom he had met through her brother, Rafael Diaz Balart, a fellow law student. They honeymooned in the United States before returning to Havana to renew their studies. A son, Fidelito, was born in 1949.
In 1950, Mr. Castro finally graduated from Havana law school and went into private practice with two other young lawyers, concentrating on political cases his friends described as “lost causes.”
In 1952, Mr. Castro was set to run for a congressional seat when Fulgencio Batista overthrew the government of President Carlos Prio Socarras in a bloodless coup. Batista canceled the election and quickly won the backing of the United States, which saw him as a bulwark against communism. An irate Mr. Castro saw revolution as the only way to topple Batista.
On July 26, 1953, he led an attack on the Moncada barracks in the Oriente province city of Santiago to obtain weapons and spark a general uprising. The raid, with 123 men and two women, failed miserably. More than half the attackers were killed, and Mr. Castro and his brother Raul were jailed.
In a Santiago court, Mr. Castro gave an impassioned two-hour sermon about Cuba’s social ills that became the manifesto of the Cuban Revolution and was later referred to as the “History Will Absolve Me” speech:
“I know that jail will be as hard as it has ever been for anyone, filled with threats, with vileness, and cowardly brutality,” he told the courtroom. “But I do not fear this, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who snuffed out the life of 70 brothers of mine. Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me!”
Mr. Castro was sentenced to 15 years in prison on the Isle of Pines, along with 25 of his companions, and became Cuba’s most famous political prisoner
While in jail, he divorced Mirta Diaz Balart for working at the Interior Ministry under her brother, Rafael, the ministry’s vice minister. “The prestige of my wife and my honor as a revolutionary are at stake,” he told a friend.
Mr. Castro served only 19 months — most of the time in solitary confinement — before being pardoned in a general amnesty. Six weeks after his release, he left for Mexico to organize a rebel force that would land in Cuba to wage guerrilla warfare against Batista in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra.
In exile, Mr. Castro made a successful seven-week tour of the United States to raise funds, give speeches and create “26 of July Clubs” (named after the date of the Moncada attack) of interested Cubans in a half-dozen cities. Money raised from the trip paid for future arms shipments.
In 1956, he purchased a leaky 38-foot wooden boat for $20,000 from an American expatriate in Mexico to sail to Cuba to begin the revolution. The Granma, which was built to hold up to 25 people safely, carried 81 men, including an Argentine doctor named Ernesto “Che” Guevara, whom Mr. Castro had met in Mexico City. The voyage took seven days.
When they landed at Los Cayuelos on Dec. 2, 1956, the rebels lost most of their supplies and equipment after the boat hit mud at low tide several hundred yards off the island’s swampy eastern coast. “This wasn’t a landing. It was a shipwreck,” Guevara later said.
Because Mr. Castro had taunted Batista by promising to return before the end of the year, the dictator’s troops were on alert and killed all but 16 of the rebels. After several days, the survivors, who included Raul Castro and Guevara, reached the safety of the forbidding terrain of the Sierra Maestra to begin what became a 25-month guerrilla war against Batista’s 40,000-strong armed forces.
Mr. Castro was widely believed to have been killed trying to reach the mountains. Even Batista thought he was dead after a United Press article indicated where he was buried and stuck to the story until New York Times journalist Herbert Matthews interviewed him several months later.
At the time, Mr. Castro had only 18 men but gave the US reporter the impression that he had many military camps and “mastery of the Sierra Maestra. One got a feeling that he is now invincible,” Matthews wrote after the visit.
Matthews’ stories turned Mr. Castro into an immediate hero in both the United States and Cuba. The Cuban defense minister, Santiago Verdeja, called the articles “a chapter in a fantastic novel” and challenged the New York Times to produce a photo of Mr. Castro. The Times published the photo the next day, prompting Batista to place a $100,000 price on Mr. Castro’s head.
With support from Sierra Maestra peasants, who channeled food, arms and ammunition to the guerrillas, Mr. Castro’s rebel army grew to 300 men by the time he launched his “final offensive” against Batista. About 3,000 rebels were with him when he triumphantly entered Santiago on Jan. 1, 1959, forcing Batista to flee to the Dominican Republic.
Five days later, in a scene captured on film shown around the world, Mr. Castro and his men marched into Havana. The rebel leader, with his trademark beard, a cigar clenched in his teeth and a rifle slung over his shoulder, rode into the capital atop a tank.
Mr. Castro was then named prime minister, and the United States recognized the new government six days later, the second country to do so after Venezuela.
In ensuing months, Mr. Castro built medical clinics and housing for the poor and opened once-restricted resorts to the poor. He also formed literacy brigades — 40 percent of the 6 million Cubans at the time were illiterate.
But relations with Washington cooled after the Eisenhower administration criticized the executions of 550 Batista “criminals” in 1959 and 1960 and long prison sentences for others imposed by revolutionary tribunals. Mr. Castro also angered Washington by nationalizing 36 US-owned businesses — including sugar mills, oil refineries and utility companies — without compensation.
At the same time, he began consolidating his power. In 1959, Maj. Huber Matos, a top Sierra Maestra fighter, resigned his post as military governor of Camaguey province. He, along with 14 officers who also resigned, was alarmed over the growing influence of communism in the army and complained to Mr. Castro. In response, Matos was sentenced to 20 years in prison for conspiracy and treason.
“From that time on, everyone was on notice that Castro was not going to let anybody oppose him and the revolution he was making,” Matthews wrote in his 1961 book, “The Cuban Story.”
In 1960, with government cash reserves below $1 million, Mr. Castro and his top advisers, along with his 9-year-old son, Fidelito, left on what he called a “goodwill trip” to the United States to seek funds. In Washington, he met with Vice President Richard Nixon — Eisenhower was on a five-day golf trip — and key members of Congress, and visited the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.
In New York, he spoke to businessmen, city officials, newspaper publishers and about 30,000 supporters in Central Park. He also addressed the United Nations for 4 hours and 29 minutes, which is still a UN record, and opted to stay at the now-closed Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where he met with Malcolm X and warmly embraced Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who described him as a “heroic man.”
During the two-week trip, Mr. Castro repeatedly said that he wasn’t a communist and that it would take four years for his government to “establish conditions for free elections.”
When Mr. Castro’s Cubana Airlines plane was impounded because of nonpayment of debts to US creditors, Khrushchev supplied a Soviet plane to fly the Cuban delegation home. Mr. Castro would not return to the United States for 19 years.
Back in Cuba, Mr. Castro embarked on radical agrarian reform that put his government on a collision course with the United States. A new law limited land ownership to 966 acres per individual, and sugar, cattle and rice plantations to no larger than 3,300 acres.
At the time, some US companies owned as many as 480,000 acres. To show how serious he was about agrarian reform, Mr. Castro nationalized his family’s own farm (his father died in 1956 while Mr. Castro was in Mexico) but allowed his mother to stay in the house until her death in 1963.
In retaliation, the Eisenhower administration stopped buying Cuban sugar and began secretly training a Cuban exile force to invade the island. In Eisenhower’s farewell gesture toward Cuba, he broke diplomatic relations on Jan. 3, 1961.
By 1961, Mr. Castro had begun depending more and more on the Soviet Union for both economic and military support. Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union would buy the sugar that would have gone to the United States and signed an agreement with Cuba to purchase Soviet oil. He also sent arms, setting the stage for a US-Cuba confrontation. In March, President John F. Kennedy blocked the sales of US farm products to Cuba and prohibited all imports from the island.
On April 16, 1961, an invasion force of 1,300 left Nicaragua’s Puerto Cabezas in six ships, escorted by the US Navy and cheered on by Nicaragua’s President Luis Somoza, who jokingly urged the rebels to bring him some hairs from Mr. Castro’s beard. They landed the next day at Playa Giron on the Bahia de Cochinos, or Bay of Pigs.
Unbeknownst to the invaders, the area was one of Mr. Castro’s favorite hideaways and one that he knew well, visiting it just two weeks before the invasion to monitor the building of a tourist resort. Most historians agree that any chance of success for the invaders was doomed after Kennedy forbade using B-26s jets to support the landing, fearing they would compromise the United States in the eyes of the world.
After three days, the Cuban army had killed 107 people and taken 1,189 prisoners. Mr. Castro lost 161 men. The captured invaders remained in prison until 1962, when Mr. Castro released them in exchange for $53 million worth of medicine and food from the United States.
The Bay of Pigs directly led to the Cuban Missile Crisis the next year, when the world came closest to a nuclear war.
After the invasion fiasco, Gen. Maxwell Taylor, chairman of a commission on the Bay of Pigs, concluded that “there can be no long-term living with Castro as a neighbor â€¦ and new guidance (must) be provided for political, military, economic and propaganda action against Castro.”
Mr. Castro in turn declared “a life-or-death struggle that can only end with the death and destruction of the revolution or of the counterrevolution,” and he began clamping down on all political opposition and criticism.
In 1961, Mr. Castro caused a political earthquake in Washington by declaring himself a Marxist-Leninist in which “to be a communist is a merit.” In 1962, Kennedy ordered a covert plan called Operation Mongoose to overthrow Mr. Castro by sabotage, infiltration and psychological warfare that Defense Secretary Robert McNamara later characterized as “insane.”
Mongoose was led by Brig. Gen. Edward Lansdale, a counterinsurgency expert who was given 400 CIA officers to carry out his directives. One of Lansdale’s schemes included submarines firing star shells over Havana on All Souls’ Day as an omen of Mr. Castro’s fall.
By 1962, things were going badly for Mr. Castro. There were counterrevolutionary guerrillas in the mountains, sugar production was down, and Operation Mongoose aimed to end his rule.
Not surprisingly, he turned to his new benefactor, the Soviet Union, which sent him MiG jet fighters. It is a matter of debate whether it was Mr. Castro or Khrushchev who first proposed sending nuclear missiles to Cuba.
When the CIA produced detailed photos showing Soviet nuclear missile installations under construction just 90 miles off the Florida coast, Kennedy opted to initiate a naval blockade against Soviet ships carrying missile equipment. After a tense 13 days in October, the ships returned to the Soviet Union, and Khrushchev withdrew the missiles, averting a nuclear war.
Historians say Mr. Castro was irate with the Soviets for having struck a deal with Washington without consulting him. But he had no idea that Kennedy had made a secret agreement with Khrushchev to remove US nuclear missiles in Turkey, which were withdrawn the next year.
In the 1970s, Mr. Castro nationalized industry, collectivized all agriculture and stifled all dissenters, including such celebrated intellectuals as poets Heberto Padilla and Armando Valladares.
In following years, Mr. Castro supported revolutionary movements in Africa and Latin America, sending hundreds of thousands of troops to Angola and Ethiopia. Che Guevara left Cuba for armed missions in the Congo and Bolivia, where he was executed in 1967 after being captured by the Bolivian army.
Cuban internationalism also included thousands of Cuban doctors, nurses and teachers sent to developing nations. Currently, there are an estimated 50,000 Cuban doctors on humanitarian missions in 66 countries.
In 1976, Mr. Castro unveiled a new Constitution that defined Cuba as a “socialist state of workers and peasants” and the Communist Party as the “highest leading force of society.” He was named leader for life, with a corollary that it would be unconstitutional to challenge him.
At the same time, he began turning to statesmanship to end his regional isolation. The Carter administration established an Interests Section in Havana, which served as a de facto embassy before President Obama announced the reopening of the embassy in 2015. Simultaneously, Cuban diplomats regained possession of their embassy 2 miles north of the White House.
But when President Jimmy Carter angered Mr. Castro in 1980 for a remark that the United States awaited “with open arms” Cubans who sought asylum in foreign embassies in Havana, the US president was faced with a sudden humanitarian crisis. Mr. Castro allowed the exodus of more than 120,000 Cubans, who became known as Marielitos, after their point of departure, Mariel.
Cuba’s economy remained increasingly dependent on the Russians, to the tune of $4. billion a year in assistance. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 cost Cuba billions of dollars in subsidies, pushing its economy into a tailspin. Potholes went unfilled, buildings deteriorated, and people waited in lines for water and other essentials. Staples such as eggs, milk and butter became hard to find.
Meanwhile, as the region turned to democracy, Mr. Castro became the odd man out at regional conferences of chief executives. In 2001, 33 nations at the Summit of Americas in Quebec ratified a “democracy clause” aimed at Mr. Castro that excluded any nation from future trade pacts that failed to conduct free elections.
In 2002, Mexico, always a staunch ally, voted for the first time in favor of UN measures criticizing Mr. Castro’s human-rights record and reportedly pressured him to leave a U.N conference in Monterrey before the arrival of then-President George W. Bush.
But at these venues, he was also the champion of the poor, railing against free trade as a solution to eradicating regional poverty, which stands at 38 percent of Latin America’s 641 million inhabitants, according to the United Nations.
Also in 2002, Carter became the first current or former U.S president to visit Cuba since Mr. Castro came to power. Although Carter hailed Cuba’s achievements in health care and education and urged the United States to end its trade embargo, he also told the Cuban people in a televised address that the communist country should become part of a democratic hemisphere, elect its own leaders and be allowed to travel freely and speak their minds.
Instead, Mr. Castro once again tightened his grip on power in 2003 when Cuban courts sentenced 75 dissidents to prison terms of up to 28 years on charges of collaborating with US diplomats to destabilize the Cuban government. It was Cuba’s harshest crackdown in decades, drawing criticism even from leftist supporters.
In recent years, Mr. Castro showed signs of advancing age, walking slower during public appearances and sometimes leaning on people walking beside him. In 2001, he fainted during a speech in the sun. Three years later, he fell after delivering a graduation speech, shattering bones in his knee and arm.
In July 2006, he disappeared from public view, temporarily relinquishing his presidential powers to his brother Raul and selected six trusted comrades to run key projects after undergoing surgery to stem gastrointestinal bleeding. It was the first time in 47 years that he had given up power. He formally left the presidency in 2008.
In retirement, he wrote a regular opinion columns called “Reflections” that were published by official newspapers and websites. In 2012, he announced that he was retiring as a columnist as well, although he continued to publish occasionally.
Most recently, he wrote an open letter soon after Obama’s 2016 visit in Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party, insisting that isolation was better than engaging with his old enemy, the United States.
Mr. Castro was very private about his personal life. It was believed he had at least seven children. A daughter, Alina Fernandez Revuelta, defected in 1993 and has lived in Spain and Miami; she denounced her father in a 1998 autobiography, “Castro’s Daughter: An Exile’s Memoir of Cuba.”
No other woman except Dalia Soto del Valle has been linked to Mr. Castro since the death of Celia Sanchez, a guerrilla veteran who died in 1980 of cancer and was the unofficial “first lady” of Cuba. Mr. Castro and Soto del Valle were married in the 1980s, according to the book “Cuba Confidential” by Ann Louise Bardach. They had five sons: Alejandro, Alexander, Alexis, Antonio and Angel.
In the end, Mr. Castro undoubtedly died believing his legacy would outlast him.
“I am prepared for death 100 percent,” he told American filmmaker Oliver Stone in the 2004 documentary “Fidel Castro: El Comandante.” “I have complete confidence that if I die tomorrow my influence will grow â€¦ the revolution will not be weakened.”
Jack Epstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com
Quotes from Fidel Castro Across More than 5 Decades
The Associated Press
(November 25, 2016) — “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”
— Oct. 16, 1953, at his trial for rebel attack that launched Cuban Revolution.
“I am not interested in power nor do I envisage assuming it at any time. All that I will do is to make sure that the sacrifices of so many compatriots should not be in vain, whatever the future may hold in store for me.”
— Jan. 1, 1959, upon triumph of the revolution.
“Workers and farmers, this is the socialist and democratic revolution of the humble, with the humble and for the humble.”
— April 16, 1961, declaring his government socialist.
“I believe that aggression is imminent in the next 24 to 72 hours,” Oct. 26, 1962, commenting on possibility of US attack in memo to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during tensest hours of Cuban missile crisis.
“Millions of Cubans shed their tears today together with the loved ones of the victims of the abominable crime. And when an energetic and forceful people cry, injustice trembles.”
— Oct. 15, 1976, addressing more than 1 million mourners in Havana the week after the terrorist bombing of Cuban airliner killed 73 people.
“Today it hurts us if a Cuban is hungry, if a Cuban has no doctor, if a Cuban child suffers or is uneducated, or if a family has no housing. It hurts us even though it’s not our brother, our son or our father. Why shouldn’t we feel hurt if we see an Angolan child go hungry, suffer, be killed or massacred?”
— March 30, 1977, to Cuban civilian and military personnel in Luanda, Angola.
“Cuba is not opposed to finding a solution to its historical differences with the United States, but no one should expect Cuba to change its position or yield in its principles. Cuba is and will continue to be socialist. Cuba is and will continue to be a friend of the Soviet Union and of all the socialist states.”
— Dec. 20, 1980, to Congress of Communist Party of Cuba.
“We will take the steps we have to take to keep our factories running, to keep our workers employed, to keep going forward in these difficult conditions, and … find the formulas to save the country, save the revolution and save socialism.”
— Oct. 14, 1991, to Communist Party congress as Cuba felt first effects of waning Soviet trade.
“We will win this battle for life, and not only for your lives, but also for the lives of all children in the world.”
— Dec. 23, 1999, calling on schoolchildren to participate in fight to repatriate Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez.
“I promise that I will be with you, if you so wish, for as long as I feel that I can be useful — and if it is not decided by nature before — not a minute less and not a second more … Now I understand that it was not my destiny to rest at the end of my life.”
— March 6, 2003, upon being re-elected by Cuba’s National Assembly to sixth term as Council of State president.
“I do not have the slightest doubt that our people and our revolution will fight to the last drop of blood to defend these and other ideas and measures that are necessary to safeguard this historic process.” — July 31, 2006, announcing he had undergone intestinal surgery and temporarily ceded his powers to younger brother Raul, Cuba’s defense minister.
“I am saying that I will neither aspire to nor accept — I repeat, I will neither aspire to, nor accept — the positions of president of the State Council and commander in chief.”
— Feb. 19, 2008, announcing his resignation as president.
“I was at death’s door, but I came back,” speaking of his 2006 illness in an Aug. 30, 2010 interview with Mexican daily La Jornada.
“The new generation is being called upon to rectify and change without hesitation all that should be rectified and changed … Persisting in revolutionary principles is, in my judgment, the principal legacy we can leave them,” April 18, 2011 opinion piece written during key Communist Party Congress on the need to hand off to young leaders.
At the Congress, Castro stepped down as head of the party. But despite talk of rejuvenation, he was replaced by his 79-year-old brother, with two grey-haired veterans of the revolution selected as Raul’s chief deputies.
“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” Castro said at an April 2016 communist party congress where he made his most extensive public appearance in years. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof that on this planet, if one works with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need and that need to be fought for without ever giving up.”
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