Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90. His brother and successor Raúl, who has been governing the nation since 2008, announced his death late Friday night on Cuban state television. Castro had been battling illness since 2006, when he temporarily turned power over to his younger brother and his other ministers.
Before overthrowing right-wing President Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Castro participated in leftist rebellions in Colombia and the Dominican Republic, where he participated in a planned expedition to overthrow right-wing military dictator Rafael Trujillo.
Although he took power in 1959, Castro didn't declare himself a socialist until just before the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. According to the Times, some analysts believe that the U.S.'s antagonism towards Castro drove him towards the Soviet Union.
Castro held onto power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. In his 49 years of rule, he cemented himself as a polarizing figure—Castro's Cuba reduced its dependence on sugar exports, desegregated its cities, drastically improved its healthcare system and literacy rates. Castro was a staunch opponent of South African apartheid and supporter of Angola's independence movement. His regime also jailed dissenters and those who called for free elections, cracked down on the independent press, and imprisoned Cuban reporters and editors.
Castro survived a reported 634 assassination attempts by the CIA and Cuban exile groups, which began under the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Under Richard Nixon's administration, there were 184 attempts on Castro's life. One of the most famous attempts involved an exploding cigar, which would have blown Castro's head off once ignited—another involved a fungus-infested diving suit (Castro was an avid SCUBA diver) that would have given him a debilitating skin disease.
In recent years, the Obama administration has been working to normalize relationships with the Caribbean nation.
"At this time of Fidel Castro's passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans—in Cuba and in the United States—with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation," Obama said in a statement.
"History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him," he continued before promising to continue normalizing the relationship between Cuba and the United States.
President-elect Donald Trump tweeted a more succinct statement about Castro's death around 8 a.m. on Saturday:
Fidel Castro is dead!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 26, 2016
In a later statement, Trump said:
Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for six decades. Fidel Castro's legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.
While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.
He also said that his administration "will do all it can" to ensure Cuba's people "can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty," citing the support he received from Miami's Cuban-American community.
In Miami, Cuban exiles and their descendants poured into the streets on Friday night to celebrate Castro's death. "Fidel, tirano, llévate a tu hermano, (Fidel, you tyrant, take your brother with you)," they reportedly chanted outside Versailles Cuban Restaurant, an iconic exile hangout. Revelers banged on pots and pans, popped champagne and smoked cigars in the street well until after 4 a.m. Meanwhile in Havana, the streets were silent.
Castro's body will lay in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution on Monday and Tuesday. After a mass gathering in the plaza on Tuesday, Castro's body will be carried to Santiago de Cuba at the far eastern end of the island, reversing the journey that he made in 1959 to take power.