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5 November 2009

The revolutionary road

Fidel’s defining moments

By Simon Reid-Henry

1926: Castro is born in Mayarí, Oriente Province, eastern Cuba. Attends local Jesuit schools in Santiago de Cuba before studying at Belén, the elite high school in Havana.

1945: Enrols in the faculty of law at the University of Havana. Travels to Bogotá in Colombia in 1948 (paid for by Argentina’s Juan Perón) to protest against the first meeting of the US-supported Organisation of American States. Takes part in the Bogotazo, the riots widely seen as the beginning of Colombia’s slide into civil war.

1953: Having tried the life of a lawyer, Castro embarks on his revolutionary career, masterminding an audacious attack on a military barracks
in Santiago de Cuba. He is sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment at the notorious Isle of Pines penitentiary.

1955: Castro and his fellow rebels are released from prison under an amnesty agreement. He immediately begins agitating for change and within months is forced to flee to Mexico. Soon afterwards, he meets Ernesto (“Che”) Guevara and puts together a rebel army in exile.

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1959: After two years of fighting in the Sierra Maestra Mountains of Cuba, the rebel army marches victorious into Havana. Many are shocked at
the executions that follow and large numbers of the Cuban middle and upper classes leave for the United States.

1962: Castro’s turn to the Soviet Union, after being pushed away by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, precipitates the Cuban missile crisis. A nuclear confrontation is narrowly avoided with a last-minute deal between Nikita Khrushchev and Kennedy. It leaves Cuba officially a Soviet satellite state, but feeling more vulnerable to US attack than before.

1970: Emulating the spirit of his recently slain comrade Che Guevara, Castro goads all Cubans to help produce the largest sugar harvest (the island’s staple crop) the island has ever achieved. It fails calamitously, disrupting industrial development throughout the economy.

1976: Castro consolidates Cuba’s incorporation into the Soviet bloc by passing a new socialist constitution, modelled on the Soviet bloc countries. Amended in the early 1990s to allow for foreign investment, it was affirmed as irrevocable in a controversial vote in 2002.

1986: Castro begins what is known in Cuba as the process of rectification, abandoning the Soviet reform model before the collapse of communism and recentralising parts of the economy, while opening the system up to internal review and revitalisation.

1989: Castro orders the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa, a comrade from the revolutionary war, and one of Cuba’s most respected senior military officers. Ochoa, along with three other prominent military figures, was accused of corruption and drug trafficking. Despite considerable dispute about the accusations levelled at Ochoa, no appeal was countenanced. Rumour has it Ochoa asked not to be blindfolded and gave the order to fire himself.

1990: With the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba loses 80 per cent of its export markets and suffers a major economic decline. By August, Castro declares the “Special Period in Time of Peace”: a period of austerity measures and rationing to help ensure the survival of his regime. The country
begins to promote tourism and biotechnology alongside sugar as part of a national industrial survival strategy.

1998: In a move that grabs headlines around the world, Castro welcomes Pope John Paul II to Cuba, despite having marginalised the Catholic Church in the 1960s and tolerated discrimination against practising believers until the early 1990s.

1999: Castro once again stirs up tense relations between Cuba and the Cuban-exile community in the United States by insisting that the young rafter Elían González, whose mother died in their attempt to flee Cuba for the US by boat, must be returned to his father in Cuba. An international legal wrangle, mirroring one Castro himself had fought in the 1950s over his own son, is eventually settled when US immigration authorities, acting on behalf of the Supreme Court, seize Elían and return him to Cuba.

2003: In what becomes known as Black Spring, Castro has 75 dissidents imprisoned, including 29 journalists, precipitating sanctions from the European Union.

2007: Taken ill with peritonitis, an infection caused by cavities in the abdominal wall.

2008: At the age of 81, having not appeared in public for well over a year, Castro cedes power to his brother Raúl in February.

2009: Castro makes a reappearance on video in August, talking to a group of students and looking healthier. On 27 October the World Health Organisation director, Margaret Chan, after meeting with the Cuban leader, reports him to be “very dynamic”.

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