Born in 1926 on a sugar plantation, Fidel Castro was the son of a moderately wealthy Spanish immigrant. He was illegitimate, as were his six brothers and sisters, and his father remained married to another woman until Fidel was 15. Fidel was a gifted student and a competent athlete. In 1945 he graduated from high school and entered the University of Havana, studying law. He became embroiled in the frequently violent student political scene, even being implicated in a number of violent crimes as well as becoming involved in the planning of an assassination against an opposing student leader that never came to fruition. He joined the Partido Ortodoxo in 1947, an organization that protested the widespread corruption in Cuban politics and advocated governmental and social reform, freeing Cuba from under the thumb of the United States' economic and political hold. In 1948 he was further implicated in two assassinations that had been successfully carried out, though he was never convicted or even put on trial. He attended anti-American protests in Colombia, participating in violent mob actions.
That same year he married his first wife, Mirta Diaz Balart. Their relationship was strained and he refused to work while completing his law degree, which he did in 1950. At this point he was well known, both for his nationalism and his hatred of America. He had grown increasingly interested in politics, and ran in 1952 for a seat in parliament, however the elections were cancelled when General Fulgencio Batista seized power.
Discontented with Batista's coup, Castro formed an underground group that sought to overthrow Batista through violent action. They first attacked the Moncada Barracks, but their attempt was disastrous, and though Castro escaped he was soon captured. He was put on trial and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for his involvement. This hardly dampened Castro's spirit, however, and he continued to plot against Batista while he was imprisoned. He was released after serving less than even two years of his sentence in 1955, and moved to Mexico. There he founded the 26th of July Movement, with much the same goals as before, but with a new focus on tactics, specifically the use of guerilla warfare. It was at this point that he met Ernesto "Che" Guevera, the man who perhaps had the greatest influence on Fidel's political beliefs. His group acquired weapons in America and returned to Mexico where they trained under a Spanish veteran. They returned to Cuba in December of 1956. While his initial attack was a disaster, he retreated to the mountains and joined with other revolutionary groups, bringing the number of guerillas up to somewhere around 800 by 1957. Around this time Castro became a well-known figure as he was reported in American news media.
In the spring of 1958 Batista attempted to wipe out the revolutionaries, however Castro was able to hold his own though heavily outnumbered and managed to gain a great deal of ground. In late 1958 they captured the provincial capital Santa Clara. After this defeat, Batista fled the country on January 1st, 1959, settling in the Dominican Republic. Castro's forces seized power soon after, to the jubilation of the people of Cuba. At this point, Castro did not take power, and indicated that he had no interest in doing so. However, by February he was sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba. Despite his earlier promises of a democratic government, he refused to allow free elections. He visited the United States in April, and soon after became allied with Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, though he denied being a communist at this point. He forced the then-president of Cuba out of his position, and appointed one he favoured more.
Throughout the summer of 1959 he remained heavily involved with the USSR. In February he signed an agreement regarding oil trading, and soon after the United States broke off diplomatic relations with his government. He continued to receive military and economic aid from Khrushchev's government. Throughout 1960 Castro began to nationalize and socialize various businesses and institutions in Cuba. These policies found favour among the poor, but was largely disapproved of by former supporters among the middle- and upper-classes. Already the US had begun formulating plans to remove Castro from power. By the end of the year Castro had silenced dissenting news outlets as well as private citizens whose views were deemed "counter-revolutionary", as well as minority groups such as homosexuals. Cuba had become a single party state, with the only party allowed being the Communist Party, with Castro at its head. In 1961 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize.
In April of 1961, the United States launched the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion, which comprised of Cuban exiles trained by the US Army. They were defeated by the Soviet-trained Cuban forces within three days. This same year Castro declared Cuba to be officially a socialist state. In late 1961 he declared Cuba to be Communist, while he himself was a Marxist-Leninist. Two months later the United States imposed a trade embargo on Cuba, which was eventually expanded through 1962 and 1963 and went as far as to disallow American tourists from entering Cuba. Poor relations between America and Cuba continued to escalate until the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when Khrushchev decided to place missile installations in Cuba. This lead to a showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union that almost resulted in nuclear war. Eventually the Soviet Union agreed to pull the missiles out of Cuba and the United States agreed not to invade Cuba. Fidel's rule continued in much the same way, heavily reliant on the USSR and extremely critical of the United States for the next four decades. He became President of Cuba in 1976, and remained so until he stepped down in 2008.
The issue of his health came to prominence in 1998, and stayed in the public mind for the next ten years. Starting in 2006 he began to delegate his duties to subordinates. In 2007 he was reported to be quite ill. In February 2008 he stepped down from his presidential duties, retiring after forty-nine years in power in Cuba
The United States has tried on several occasions to assassinate Castro, which began shortly after he gained power and continued throughout his reign. He has survived every attempt. One attempt allegedly involved an exploding cigar, another centered around a poisoned diving suit, and another around poison pills hidden in cold cream. More traditional attempts have included a gangland-style hit, and poisonings of his food on at least six separate occasions.