Ex-Cuban leader Fidel Castro dies at age 90

Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro talks with China's Premier Li Keqiang in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. Li Keqiang is on a two-day official visit to Cuba. (AP Photo/Alex Castro)
Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro talks with China's Premier Li Keqiang in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. Li Keqiang is on a two-day official visit to Cuba. (AP Photo/Alex Castro)

HAVANA (AP/CBS News) — Cuban President Raul Castro has announced the death of his brother Fidel Castro on Cuban state media.

The announcement was made late Friday night.  Fidel Castro was 90.

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Castro stepped down as Cuba’s president 10 years ago after suffering a severe gastrointestinal illness.

Castro came to power after overthrowing U.S-backed strongman Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

In mid-August, Castro celebrated his 90th birthday when he appeared but did not speak at a gala in his honor broadcast on state television.

Before his birthday, Castro last appeared in public in April, closing the twice-a-decade congress of the Communist Party with a call for Cuba to stick to its socialist ideals amid ongoing normalization with the U.S.

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 50 years.

He was born in 1929, the illegitimate son of a wealthy farmer.

In the late 1950’s, Castro, along with Ernesto “Che” Guevara  and other rebels began a guerrilla campaign that ultimately toppled Batista.

Under Castro, Cuba became a communist country — just 90 miles from the United States.

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. The U.S. also tried numerous times to oust him from power. 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, in 1962 the U.S. found evidence of Soviet missiles in Cuba and the world held its breath as the Cuban missile crisis in October 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.

Just before his 80th birthday Castro shocked his people when, before undergoing major surgery, he turned the reigns of power over to his brother. After that, he made only occasional public appearances to rail against capitalism.

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