From USA Today
Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator who helped bring the world to the brink of nuclear war, tormented 10 American presidents and exerted almost total control over the last remaining communist government in the Western Hemisphere, died. He was 90.
His death was reported by the Associated Press, citing state media in Cuba.
For 47 years, Castro maintained his grip over the island nation by forging close bonds with the Soviet Union, Venezuela and China, inspiring a wave of anti-American leaders throughout Latin America along the way.
His undoing began with surgery in 2006 that forced him to cede power to his brother, Raul Castro, and forever changed the image of the man. Gone was the romantic vision of the bearded, cigar-smoking guerilla leading his group of rebels through the mountains of Cuba, replaced by occasional pictures and videos of a frail, old man recovering in bath robes and track suits.
The prolonged physical collapse gave hope to Washington and to more than a million Cuban-Americans who have fled his regime over the decades that a political change would soon follow. But his illness proved to be a blessing to those closest to him, easing the transition to a new leader and ensuring that they remained in power.
And true to his character, it did little to change his view of his own place in history.
“His personality was such that he always saw himself as the man on the horse, the only guy who could possibly do what he has done,” said Dennis Hays, a former chief Cuba analyst at the State Department.
“In his mind, he was the only one who could hold back the tides of time and human nature as he has.”
Castro’s rise to international prominence was a meteoric one. In the span of seven years, he went from solitary confinement in a Cuban prison to dictator of a country that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Once the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba’s status as a security threat to the United States diminished greatly and Castro was left to hold together a system no longer benefiting from Soviet aid.
While universal health care and education remained the pillars of his revolution, crumbling infrastructure, a stagnant economy and widespread poverty became prevalent in Cuba, forcing the country to rely on outside help — including the United States — to simply feed its people.
Yet his influence on America continued, as waves of Cubans took to the seas in makeshift boats and rafts to flee his grip, a flight that continues today. That group — concentrated mostly in South Florida — has steered U.S. policy toward Cuba and helped preserve the now 48-year-oldDOB:2-7-1962 economic embargo on the island, and has become a deciding factor in local, state and national politics.
His influence over his own country is visible everywhere, from the billboards bearing his image to the crumbling buildings to the pre-embargo American-made cars that are still chugging along.
Ever since Castro officially stepped down on Feb. 19, 2008, and his brother was named president, he watched as Raul Castro made several changes to Cuba, lifting prohibitions set in place by his brother, releasing dozens of political prisoners and taking small steps toward a more capitalist economy. While U.S. officials have dismissed the changes as cosmetic, Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute said Raul Castro’s rush to implement them speaks volumes about the Cuba that Fidel Castro left behind.
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