Fidel Castro: From Rebel to El Presidente

Fidel Castro speaks shortly after taking power in 1959.

Fidel Castro speaks shortly after taking power in 1959. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

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Fidel Castro and Ed Sullivan

In a 1959 interview with Ed Sullivan, Fidel Castro says Cuba will have no more dictators. SOFA Home Entertainment hide caption

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Cuban-held prisoners from the attempted invasion at the Bay of Pigs

A group of captured Cubans, part of a U.S.-backed force of Cuban exiles who attempted an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, are lined up by Castro's soldiers on the Playa de Giron, Cuba, in 1961. Three Lions/Getty Images hide caption

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President Kennedy delivers a televised address about the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.

President Kennedy delivers a televised address about the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Getty Images hide caption

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Fidel Castro makes a point at the United Nations.

Fidel Castro makes a point at the U.N. special session marking the organization's 50th anniversary in 1995. Bob Strong/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Fidel Castro looks skyward.

Fidel Castro looks skyward as he delivers a speech in Bayamo July 26, 2006, during a ceremony marking the 53rd anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks by rebels led by Castro. Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959 and held it for nearly a half-century, becoming one of the world's longest-ruling leaders. After falling ill in July 2006, he cedes power to his brother Raul, then resigns as president in February 2008. Read a timeline of the communist dictator's life.

December 1903: The treaty leasing Guantanamo Bay to the United States for use as a military fueling station is signed in Havana.

1925: The Cuban Socialist Party is founded.

Aug. 13, 1926: Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz is born on his family's sugar plantation in Biran, Cuba.

1933: Gerado Machado's dictatorial regime is overthrown in a military coup led by Sgt. Fulgencio Batista.

1944: Batista retires and is succeeded by Ramon Gray San Martin.

1945: Castro attends the University of Havana Law School.

1950: Castro opens a private law practice in Havana.

1952: Castro's plans to run for the House of Representatives are disrupted as Batista returns to power after an eight-year retirement.

July 26, 1953: Castro organizes a rebellion, attacking Batista's largest military outpost, the Moncada Barracks near Santiago. The revolt is unsuccessful and Castro is arrested.

October 1953: After a three-month trial, Castro is sentenced to 15 years in prison for his part in the attacks on the Moncada Barracks.

May 1955: Castro is granted amnesty and released from prison. He goes into exile in Mexico.

1955: While in Mexico, Castro founds the 26th of July movement, named after the failed offensive on the Moncada Barracks that led to his imprisonment.

1956: Castro returns to Cuba. He creates a stronghold in the Sierra Masetra Mountains where his revolutionary movement grows in popularity.

1958: The United States withdraws its military assistance to the Batista regime.

Jan. 1, 1959: Batista flees Cuba as Castro's forces enter Havana. In the following week, a new government is formed and Castro arrives, assuming the post as commander in chief of the armed forces. Castro would also later fill the position of prime minister, vacated by Jose Miro Cardona.

May 1959: Castro's government begins expropriating U.S.-owned property.

June 1960: Castro nationalizes an estimated $850 million worth of U.S. property and businesses after President Eisenhower slashes the import quota for Cuban sugar.

The Bay of Pigs Invasion

April 14, 1961: Castro describes his revolution as socialist.

April 15, 1961: The U.S. military bombs Cuban airfields.

April 17, 1961: Hoping to incite a popular uprising against Castro's government, a force of about 1,400 Cuban exiles — who are trained, financed and commanded by the CIA l— land at Playa Giron in the Bay of Pigs. President Kennedy cancels official U.S. military support for the operation at the last minute.

April 21, 1961: Castro's forces successfully defend the shore, capturing the invading exiles.

Feb. 7, 1962: In continued response to Cuba's nationalization of American property, the United States imposes a trade embargo against Cuba.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

Oct. 14, 1962: A U-2 spy-plane mission discovers missile sites in Cuba.

Oct. 22, 1962: President Kennedy announces the presence of tactical missile sites in Cuba.

Oct. 27, 1962: An American U-2 spy plan is shot down over Cuba, killing the pilot.

Oct. 28, 1962: After tense negotiations with the United States, Khrushchev agrees to withdraw Soviet missiles from Cuba. In return, the United States agrees not to invade Cuba and to remove missiles from Turkey.

Dec. 1, 1965: The United States begins an airlift of residents seeking to leave Cuba.

Nov. 2, 1966: Almost 125,000 Cubans living in the United States apply for permanent residency after President Johnson grants amnesty to Cuban immigrants who arrived in the country after Jan. 1, 1959.

April 6, 1973: The Cuban airlift ends after bringing more than 260,000 Cuban immigrants to the United States in eight years.

Nov. 11, 1975: The Angolan independence group M.P.L.A. takes over the capital city of Luanda and declares Angola's independence from Portugal with heavy military assistance from Cuba.

Nov. 20, 1975: U.S. intelligence discloses more than eight failed attempts by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro between 1960 and 1965.

1976: Cuban Communist Party adopts a new constitution institutionalizing socialism. Castro assumes the presidency.

1980: More than 125,000 Cubans flood out of the port of Mariel and make their way to Florida. Over a five-month span, the Mariel boatlift also brings thousands of criminals and mental patients to U.S. shores.

1988: Cuba withdraws its military presence from Angola.

1991: Soviet advisers leave Cuba following the collapse of the USSR. Lacking Soviet economic aid, Cuba's economy falls into recession.

Sept. 9, 1994: Cuba and the United States agree to cap the number of Cuban refugees admitted into the United States at 20,000 per year.

January 1996: Brothers to the Rescue, an anti-Castro organization based in Miami, uses airplanes to drop fliers over Havana urging citizens to revolt against the government.

Feb. 24, 1996: U.S. trade embargo becomes permanent in response to Cuba shooting down two U.S. aircraft operated by Miami-based Cuban exiles.

January 1998: Pope John Paul II visits Cuba.

November 1999: Six-year-old Elian Gonzalez is found floating off the coast of South Florida after the boat carrying him, his mother and 12 others capsized. His mother drowned in the accident and Elian is put in the custody of family members in Miami. After a high-profile legal dispute, Elian is reunited with his father in Cuba in June 2000.

1999: Castro celebrates 40 years in power.

October 2000: U.S. House of Representatives approves limited sale of food and medicine to Cuba, revising the Cuban trade embargo.

April 2004: The United Nations Human Rights Commission censures Cuba over recent human rights abuses, including the detention of more than 75 political dissidents.

2005: Forbes magazine lists Castro among the world's richest people, estimating his net worth at $550 million. In 2006, Forbes increases his estimated worth to $900 million; Castro denies that he benefits from an empire of state-owned enterprises.

March 30, 2006: Spanish-language newspapers mistakenly report that Fidel Castro is dead.

July 31, 2006: A statement from the Cuban leader says Castro has undergone surgery for intestinal bleeding and that he is temporarily ceding power to his brother Raul.

March 28, 2007: Castro writes the first dozens of essays called "Reflections of the Commander in Chief" that give him a voice on international affairs while he remains off the public stage.

Dec. 18, 2007: Castro publishes an essay saying he doesn't intend to cling to power forever, and will not "obstruct the path of younger people." He repeats the theme 10 days later in letter to parliament.

Jan. 20, 2008: Castro is re-elected to parliament, leaving open the possibility he could remain as president.

Feb. 19, 2008: Castro resigns as president, saying "it would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer.

Aug. 7, 2010: Castro addresses the Cuban National Assembly for the first time in four years. In a brief speech and question-and-answer session, the retired leader referred to earlier predictions that the U.S. and Israel would launch a nuclear attack on Iran, and that the U.S. might also attack North Korea. He urged President Barack Obama to resist pressures toward more war.

Sources: NPR research, the Associated Press, PBS American Experience, BBC

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