Fidel Castro: 10 Amazing Facts About Cuba's Cigar-Loving Communist
1. And You Thought You Knew The Man...
In 2015, then-U.S. President Barack Obama normalized relations between the United States and its neighbor Cuba.
Until 2006, when he stepped down and turned the government over to his brother Raul, Fidel Castro had been the third longest-serving head of state at the time. Only the King of Thailand and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain had ruled longer.
During that time span, Castro stayed in power longer than nine U.S. presidents, starting with Eisenhower in 1959, and ending with Barack Obama when Castro left office during Obama's second year in office. The venerable and beloved leader passed away in 2016 at the age of 90.
Eight years earlier, Fidel's brother Raul Castro had assumed his brother's place as president of Cuba, and led the nation for nearly 12 years until April 2018 when the presidency of Cuba was handed over to Miguel Díaz-Canel who had served as vice-president to Raul.
This transfer of power marked the first time in 60 years that Cuba would be ruled by someone not a Castro.
Although Fidel Castro had claimed at times to earn only $43 a month, and often lived in a fisherman's hut, at his death Forbes magazine estimated Castro's net worth to be approximately $900 million.
Here are some fascinating and little-known facts about Fidel Castro and his amazing life.
2. Fidel Castro: Illegitimate Child of a Servant Girl
Fidel Castro was born as the result of an affair his father had with one of the family's servant girls.
Born on August 13, 1926, Fidel's father -- Angel Castro y Argiz -- had immigrated to Cuba from his native Spain. He ran a profitable sugar cane farm called Las Manacas and prospered financially.
However, Angel's first marriage collapsed and he found solace in the arms of his servant girl, Lina Ruz Gonzáles. The rich farmer and his mistress would have seven children, including Fidel, and Lina will eventually become his second wife.
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3. Catholic Castro Attended Jesuit School
When he was just six, young Fidel left his father's residence to attend school in nearby Santiago. He lived with his teacher, and when he turned eight he was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church.
His baptism allowed him to attend Santiago's La Salle boarding school. But even at this young age, Fidel Castro had a rebellious streak, and after misbehaving repeatedly, his supervisors chose to send him to a third school, and this one had much stricter rules and regulations: it was the Dolores School (the word "dolores" in Spanish means "pain"), and it was run by no-nonsense Jesuit priests.
When he turned 19, having survived his Jesuit school experience, Fidel entered a second Jesuit-run school, El Colegio de Belen in Havana. He studied many subjects, including debate, geography, history and law, but soon found himself spending less time in the classroom and more time playing sports, particularly baseball.
4. University of Havana Student Body President Wannabe
In 1945 while studying law at the University of Havana, Fidel became involved in student political activism. His dislike of the imperialistic influence of the United States was now growing stronger with every passing year.
He decided to run for student body president of the "Federation of University Students" on a platform promising the students "honesty, decency and justice." He planned to use the position to share his increasingly revolutionary ideas with like-minded students.
Castro was becoming more alarmed at the corruption in the presidency of Cuba's president, Ramon Grau, and gave a public speech in November 1946 where he blasted Grau's administration. The speech made the front page of a number of respected Cuban newspapers, and although he would go on to lose his race for student body president, Fidel Castro was well on his way to take his message not just to a few thousand university students, but to the entire nation of Cuba.
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5. The Dictator Vs. The Doctor
In 1945 while studying law at the University of Havana, Castro began to develop his anti-imperialistic thinking and began an active participation in student activism.
His activities became more public and his objections more vocal, and after upsetting both the current government and fellow student activists with his speeches, he left the university for a short while, going into hiding in the United States and also the Cuban countryside.
After things quieted down, Castro returned to Havana and kept a low profile. He went back to school and graduated from the University of Havana with a Doctor of Law degree in the Fall of 1950.
However, the young man's heart was not in the courtroom, but with his revolutionary friends. In March 1952, Army General Fulgencio Batista led a military coup and seized power in Cuba. The general declared he'd won the leadership post by "disciplined democracy," but Castro believed Batista was nothing but a dictator and puppet of the United States government.
Dr. Fidel Castro, the lawyer, was now transforming into Fidel Castro the revolutionary.
6. Gun Thief & New York City Honeymooner
In early 1948, student Fidel Castro visited Bogota, Colombia with a student group. The trip was sponsored by Argentine dictator Juan Peron, but ironically, while Castro's group was in Colombia, the nation's leader, Jorge Eliecer Galtan Ayala was assassinated. Fighting broke out in the country between conservatives and liberals.
Fidel, as was his nature, joined the liberalists in their struggle. He helped his comrades by stealing guns for a police armory, but later was exonerated of any killings.
So he was allowed to return to Cuba, where later that year he married Mirta Diaz-Balart, daughter of a wealthy Cuban family. Neither family approved of the relationship, but finally caving in, Mirta's father gave them tens-of-thousands of dollars to pay for a three-month honeymoon in New York City.
Any Fidel Castro children? Yes, from two marriages and numerous affairs Castro is known to have fathered at least nine children. His first child was son Fidel Castro Diaz-Belart, born in September 1949. The lad soon became known as "Fidelito," or, "little Fidel." The marriage only lasted six years and he and Mirta divorced in 1955. The ex-Mrs. Castro soon moved to Spain where she stayed for most of her life. Fidelito, however, grew up and was educated in Cuba, eventually becoming the temporary head of Cuba's atomic energy commission.
On February 1, 2018, Fidel "Fidelito" Castro Diza-Balart committed suicide after suffering from chronic depression. He was 58. His father passed away on November 25, 2016.
Shortly after Fidelito's death, internet rumors began to circulate that his father, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, was the father of current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The rumor suggested that Justin was conceived when his mother, Margaret, made a visit to Cuba in 1975. Problem is, Justin was born in 1971 -- four years before his mother made her first Cuban visit.
7. Fidel Castro, Che Gueverro and the Cuban Revolution
In 1952 Fidel began recruiting young men to join his anti-Batista group called "The Movement." Most of the recruits came from the poor sections of Havana, and within a year he had over 1,000 members in his secret organization.
On July 26, 1953 he and over 150 revolutionaries attacked a military fort just outside the city of Santiago. He hoped to take weapons from the armory and ignite an uprising with the poor sugar cane cutters in the area joining his rag-tag army. But the resistance was much more fierce than anticipated and the attackers soon suffered six fatalities and 15 wounded. Castro ordered a retreat and fled into the vast Sierra Maestra mountain range where he and nineteen survivors would hide out. Over time, the scattered rebels were tracked down and dozens were executed without a trial. Castro was lucky, and sent to a prison near Santiago where he was put on trial in the city's Palace of Justice and given a 15-year prison sentence.
On May 15, 1955, he was given an early release. That time behind prison bars gave him the opportunity to refocus, readjust and learn from the mistakes his first overthrow attempt had made. By now he was calling their new group the "26th of July Movement." Fidel and Raul quietly left Cuba for Mexico City where Castro's brother Raul introduced him to a like-minded Argentine named Che Guevara. Che Guevara and Fidel Castrol quickly became close friends and the Argentine revolutionary was happy to join the 26th of July Movement.
In November 1956, Castro and Guevara set sail for Cuba with 81 armed revolutionaries. The rag-tag army slowly increased in size, and in a little over two years after ousting the dictator Batista and his army, Fidel Castro became the leader of Cuba.
8. Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev-New Best Friends
When Castro first began thinking about overthrowing the corrupt Batista regime that controlled Cuba, he was more of a socialist than a communist. Brother Raul had already embraced communism and had a lot of influence on his older brother.
Once Fidel Castro was in power, he effectively made Cuba in a socialist state with one party, and under the rule of the Communist Party.
It was the first communist nation in the Americas, and this did not sit well with America's politicians and military leaders. In Moscow, however, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was delighted and personally invited Fidel Castro to come to the Soviet Union for a visit, which Castro did in May 1963.
9. He's in The Guinness Book of Records--TWICE!
Seems Fidel had a lot to say: he holds the Guinness Book of Records crown for delivering the longest speech ever given at the United Nations. In 1960 he spoke to the General Assembly for four and one-half hours, a record that still stands.
He did even better in 1986 at a Communist Party Congress held in Havana when he spoke for over seven hours.
His second entry into the Guinness archives is the fact that a pet project of his was increasing a cow's milk production, and a cow called Ubre Blanca set a record by producing 29 gallons of milk in a single day.
10. Castro Accomplished What Winston Churchill Could Not
Other than perhaps Winston Churchill, Fidel Castro was probably the most photographed cigar smoker in the world. Some of his more famous photographs show him with a cigar in hand.
However, in 1985 the one-time cigar-chomping guerrilla fighter gave up his fine Cuban cigars. He will later tell friends, "the best thing you can do with this box of cigars is to give them to your enemy."
He would go on to live another 31 years.
One common trait the two men did share during their lifetimes was the ability to give great speeches and rally their kinsman to support a certain cause. For Churchill, his quotes were often about winning the war against Germany. For Castro, it was rallying Cubans to believe in and support communism.
One of the most popular Fidel Castro quotes is "A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past."
Fidel Castro has gone down in world history books as one of the great revolutionists in modern times.
One of the books I read when I was researching this article was by Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet. Highly rated, this amazing book details Castro's thoughts on U.S. President John F. Kennedy and the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, his relationship with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, and his admiration for U.S. President Jimmy Carter. I especially enjoyed reading Castro's comments and recollections about his relationship with fellow revolutionary Che Guevara. If you have an interest in world leaders or Cuba's history and politics, I highly recommend this as a great read. Fidel Castro: My Life: A Spoken Autobiography
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© 2017 Tim Anderson