CBS NEWS – To supporters he was a revolutionary hero.
To critics he was a ruthless dictator.
But for better or for worse Fidel Castro was Cuba for nearly fifty years.
He was born in 1929, the illegitimate son of a wealthy farmer.
In the late 1950’s, Castro, along with Ernesto Guevara and other rebels began a guerilla campaign that ultimately toppled Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista.
Under Castro, Cuba became a communist country.
The island nation established close ties with the Soviet Union and seized nearly all U.S. owned properties.
The United States responded with a long-running trade embargo.
In 1961, President Kennedy authorized a force of CIA trained rebels to storm the country.
Castro’s forces crushed the rebels in three days in what became known as the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Then, the U.S. found evidence of Soviet missiles in Cuba and the world held its breath as the Cuban missile crisis escalated hour by hour, until the Soviets finally blinked, agreeing to remove the missiles.
Through the years, Castro survived countless assassination attempts as he continued to goad the United States.
In 1980 he embarrassed the U.S. when he included thousands of prisoners and mental health patients in a mass exodus of Cuban exiles.
Nearly 20 years later, he turned a custody battle for a young Cuban boy named Elian Gonzalez into a public relations war against the United States.
Castro introduced free medical care and universal education, to Cubans but he also maintained his power abolishing multiparty elections, censoring the media and making most emigration illegal.
He was married twice and fathered nine children from five different mothers.
Having put the country in his brother’s care, Fidel Castro lived to see President Obama agree to normalize relations between Cuba and the United States.