by / November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro, the former dictator of Cuba, has died at the age of 90. Here are nine things you should know about the long-ruling Marxist leader.

1. Fidel Castro was born Fidel Ruz in 1926 near Birán, Cuba. His father, Ángel, was a Spanish migrant who moved to Cuba and became a wealthy sugar plantation owner. His mother was a household servant and Ángel’s mistress. When Fidel was age 17 his father married his mother and formally changed his son’s last name from Ruz to Castro.

2. Castro was baptized a Catholic at the age of 8 and attended several Jesuit-run boarding schools. After graduation in the mid-1940s Castro began studying law at the Havana University, where he became politically active in socialist and nationalist causes, in particular opposition to U.S. involvement in the Caribbean. By the end of the decade he became interested in the writings of Marx and Lenin and the cause of revolutionary socialism.

3. During his law school days Castro began to adopt the practice of revolutionary political violence. In 1947 he journeyed to the Dominican Republic to participate in a failed attempt to overthrow of the country’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo. That same year Castro was also accused of instigating an assassination attempt on Cuba’s president, Ramón Grau. When in 1952 General Fulgencio Batista seized power, Castro began making plans to overthrow him too. Castro’s use of political violence continued even after he seized power. The Cuba Archive project has documented almost 10,000 victims of Castro between 1952 and today, including 5,600 men, women, and children who died in front of firing squads and another 1,200 in “extrajudicial assassinations.” Thousands more Cubans also died trying to flee his repressive regime.

4. In 1955, Castro traveled with his brother Raul to Mexico, where he met up with other revolutionaries in exile, including an Argentine doctor named Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The next year the group returned to Cuba to instigate an overthrow the Batista government. Castro’s insurgency succeeded in 1959, and he was installed as prime minister of Cuba. A few months later he implemented “socialist” policies that were similar to those of communist countries.

5. In 1962, while still declaring his country to be merely a socialist state, Castro worked with Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, on a plan to install Soviet nuclear weapons on Cuban soil. When aerial reconnaissance detected them it sparked the 13-day (October 16 to 28) confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro wanted Khrushchev to threaten to use nuclear weapons if the United States attacked Cuba, but the Soviet leader refused and ultimately conceded to U.S. demands to remove all the missiles from the island nation.

6. In 1965, Castro merged Cuba’s Communist Party with his own Integrated Revolutionary Organizations and installed himself as head of the party. This move officially made Cuba the first Communist country in the Western Hemisphere. Over the next few years Castro founded several organizations to promote revolution and communism throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Castro also allowed several violent revolutionary groups from across the world, including America’s Black Panthers and the Vietnam’s Viet Cong, to train in Cuba.

7. During the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations, the U.S. government had a policy to overthrow Castro (which included the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, led by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles). The CIA also made several attempts to assassinate Castro. The Cuban government claimed that 638 attempts had been made on Castro’s life, but the 1975 Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the “Church Committee”) substantiated eight assassination attempts that had been made between 1960 and 1965. Some of the attempts reportedly included the use of exploding cigars, cigars poisoned with botulinum toxin, and a fountain pen with a hidden needle capable of injecting lethal toxin into a victim without his knowledge.

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