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Fidel Castro: revolutionary, renaissance man

Castro squeezed the maximum out of his 90 years which ended when he died late Friday, getting by on snatched rest, sustained by the passion of his interests and the revolution he nurtured for nearly half a century

Image Credit: AP
A 1999 file photo of Cuba's leader Fidel Castro

HAVANA: His long-winded political rants were legendary. But Fidel Castro also loved burning the midnight oil, the written word, and, ironically, the sport that unites Cuba and its US foe: baseball.

Castro squeezed the maximum out of his 90 years which ended when he died late Friday, getting by on snatched rest, sustained by the passion of his interests and the revolution he nurtured for nearly half a century.

"I will never retire from politics, the revolution or the ideas I have," Castro said late in his life.

Castro's legendary late-nightsmanship was a source of constant comment by journalists, biographers and the bemused.

For Castro, it was utterly normal to dine into the wee hours, then hold interviews that stretched on hours as guests slumped over in their chairs.

Some of his closest allies and friends said Castro somehow learned to rest while awake, in a sort of active down-time of chatting, swimming or reading, another passion of his.

"His devotion to the word is almost magical," wrote a personal friend, Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He said he was convinced that when Castro is "tired of conversing, he rests by conversing more." Garcia Marquez died in 2014.

Learning to surf web

Castro thirsted for knowledge, learning late in life to surf the Internet, even as his government controlled access to it.

His personal library included books by Ernest Hemingway and texts on hydroponics, or growing plants without soil.

There are photos of the day when the only Concorde to visit Havana touched down, and Castro headed to the airport to pepper the pilot with questions about the sleek supersonic jet.

The youthful Castro of the 1950s was fabled for incessant cigar smoking. When he stubbed out the habit, he was awarded a prize from the World Health Organization.

Something of a gourmand, Castro collected cooking recipes which, according to Garcia Marquez, he liked to prepare "with a sort of scientific rigor." In his later years he went on diets, even as many Cubans struggled to put enough food on their own tables.

The first papal nuncio during his government, Monsignor Cesare Sacchi, taught him how to make pasta.

Maybe because of his high energy, or maybe to work off dinner, Castro was no stranger to the gym and he loved swimming. His great sporting loves, however, were basketball, diving and baseball, Cuba's national sport.

An inveterate risk-taker, he did not balk at political and military high stakes.

Castro did not take kindly to defeat. When Cuba failed to meet its 1970 sugar harvest target of 10 million tonnes (there were only eight) he urged Cubans to "turn misfortune into victory."

"In my next incarnation I want to be a writer," Castro was once quoted as saying. He wrote many short pieces and editorials but his books are mainly compilations of his speeches.



Timeline of Fidel Castro's life

Key events in the life of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, whose death at 90 was announced on Saturday.

August 13, 1926: Castro is born in Biran, eastern Cuba, the third of seven children, son of a Spanish immigrant landowner and a Cuban mother who had been the family housekeeper. A fine student, Fidel was sent away from the farm to be schooled by Jesuits in Santiago.

July 26, 1953: Leads a failed attack on Santiago de Cuba's Moncada military barracks. Castro is arrested and dozens of his men are jailed.

December 2, 1956: After setting off from Mexico, lands in southeastern Cuba on the ship Granma with 81 fighters and launches a 25-month-long military campaign in the Sierra Maestra mountains.

January 1, 1959: Dictator Fulgencio Batista flees the country. Castro makes a victorious entry into Havana on January 8 and is appointed prime minister in February.

April 15-27, 1959: Meets US Vice President Richard Nixon in the United States.

1960: Establishes diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

1961: The United States severs diplomatic relations with Cuba.

April 17-19, 1961: Defeats 1,400 anti-Castro fighters in the US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion.

February 13, 1962: US President John F. Kennedy decrees an embargo against Cuba.

October 1962: The Soviet Union deploys missiles in Cuba but eventually agrees to withdraw them in exchange for guarantees the United States would not invade Cuba.

April 1963: Castro makes his first visit to the Soviet Union.

1965: Castro founds the Communist Party of Cuba.

1975: Sends troops to help Angola independence fighters.

1980: Gives green light to refugee exodus of 125,000 on the so-called Mariel boatlift to the United States.

1990: Cuba plunges into extreme economic difficulties following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

1995: Castro visits China for the first time.

1998: Welcomes Pope John Paul II on his historic visit to Cuba.

1999: Launches a successful campaign for the return of six-year-old Cuban shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez from Florida.

March 2003: Orders the arrest of 75 opposition leaders.

July 31, 2006: Temporarily transfers power to his brother, defense chief Raul Castro, then 75, after what an official statement called delicate intestinal surgery.

Late November-December 3, 2006: Fails to appear during celebrations for his 80th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the landing of the Granma.

February 2008: Raul Castro is named president, taking the helm of government definitively.

March 22, 2011: Fidel Castro confirms he no longer holds any official title. Pens a series of columns over the following years.

December 17, 2014: Fidel Castro remains out of sight as Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama announce the normalization of relations.

July 20, 2015: United States and Cuba reopen embassies in each other's capitals.

November 25, 2016: Fidel Castro dies aged 90, Raul Castro announces.

In Pictures


Timeline of Fidel Castro's life

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