Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926 in Mayari, Cuba. His parents were relatively wealthy and owned a sugarcane plantation. During his childhood, he attended private Catholic Schools and graduated to attend the University of Havana in 1945. His teachers immediately noticed Fidel's amazing memory, which he used to memorize entire books.
At the university, he majored in law studies and became a member of several groups that opposed the Cuban regime, aiding exiles from the Dominican Republic in their political movement. The Cuban government dissolved the group in 1947 and Fidel joined in protests in Bogota that were intended to stop the Ninth International Conference of American States.
He graduated with his degree in law in 1950 and had seen the power of political movements. He became a full member of the Ortodoxo Party and campaigned for a seat in the Cuban Congress. However, his plans were disrupted when Fulgencio Batista seized control of the Cuban government in order to prevent the rise of the Orthodoxos. Under Batista, thousands of political opponents were murdered and the people were held under massive oppression.
Fidel began plotting militant action against the Batista regime, becoming the leader of nearly 200 revolutionaries from all over Cuba. On July 26, 1953, he led them in a guerrilla attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiage de Cuba. The militia seized weapons and other supplies and their success caused the citizens there to rally to his flag. Unfortunately, the government sent in reinforcements, which managed to kill nearly all of the revolutionaries and send Fidel to prison for fifteen years.
After a year, Batista granted amnesty to all political prisoners, including Fidel, and they were released. He had not lost his revolutionary attitude and moved to Mexico and form a new army of guerrillas to overthrow the Cuban government. There he met Che Guevara, who was serving as a medical intern in Mexico City. They quickly joined forces and assembled a group of eighty-two guerrillas, training them in the art of war. The group was called the 26th of July, in memory of the attack on the barracks in 1953.
On December 2, 1956, the group returned to Cuba using a boat. When a man fell overboard, Fidel refused to continue until he was found. They landed, but the group was quickly destroyed by the Cuban army. The few survivors, including Fidel and Che, went into the mountains to hide. There they were able to conduct small hit-and-run operations as well as initiate a propaganda campaign that helped them to gain public support. Over two years, his group gained enough strength to force Batista to leave Cuba on January 1, 1959.
Fidel moved to Havana and appointed himself the premier of Cuba. During his first speech as premier, a dove landed on his shoulder, causing the highly religious people of Cuba to believe that he was a messenger of God. He promised a government free of corruption and honest to the people, and kept most of the Cuban Constitution of 1940. However, his word was not kept and over the years he executed thousands of Batista Party members.
In 1959, Fidel toured many countries, including the United States, to encourage unity among nations. Although President Eisenhower refused to meet him, Vice President Nixon met with Fidel, later calling him a communist dictator that should be overthrown. He traveled again to the United States to speak before the United Nations general council. When they threatened to refuse him an audience, he stayed in a hotel nearby. During his stay, many leaders of the time, including Malcolm X and Khrushchev.
When Fidel returned to Cuba, he formed a socialist economy, putting the country at odds with the United States in the middle of the cold war. Previously, up to 70% of the Cuban land and farms had been owned by foreigners. He ordered all American-owned businesses and interests confiscated, eventually causing the United States to cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba and impose a trade embargo on January 31, 1961. As a result of the seizure of foreign assets, over one billion dollars was lost by private companies in the United States.
Fidel united Cuba with fellow Marxist leaders in the Soviet Union and China, gaining military aid and economic assistance. When the United States sent in forces to remove him from power in 1961, he managed to defeat them and retain power. In 1962, the United States forced the Soviet Union to remove its nuclear missiles from the island, ending the Cuban Missile Crisis and embarrassing Fidel.
He continued supporting revolutionaries in other countries, including Che, who had left Cuba to lead a revolutionary effort in Bolivia. Despite Che's death in 1967, Fidel continued sending Cuban soldiers to unstable countries in Central and South America to encourage Communist revolution.
Cuba's economy never really prospered under communism and after the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, Cuba stopped receiving most of its economic aid. Today, Fidel's health is ailing, although he insists that a communist government in Cuba will prevail even after his death. Attempts to reopen diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba have failed, although Cuba is no longer a serious threat with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
On February 19, 2008, Fidel announced that he would not accept another term as president of Cuba, effectively retiring. His brother, Raul, had already assumed responsibilities and he was officially elected as Fidel's replacement by the National Assembly on February 24, 2008.