Fidel Castro

Chronology of the Castro era

Fidel Castro: A visual evolution of a leader through the decades

Fidel Castro's image has evolved since his time as a University of Havana student leader and young lawyer. Here is a visual compilation of the man behind Cuba’s revolution.
Up Next
Fidel Castro's image has evolved since his time as a University of Havana student leader and young lawyer. Here is a visual compilation of the man behind Cuba’s revolution.

1953: Lawyer Fidel Castro leads rebels in an attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Death toll: 69 attackers, 19 soldiers and police. Castro is captured.

1955: Castro gets amnesty and leaves for exile in Mexico.

1956: Castro leaves Mexico with 81 followers aboard the yacht Granma. After a disastrous landing in eastern Cuba on Dec. 2, he and other survivors reach the Sierra Maestra mountains and launch a guerrilla war against the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship.


Dec. 31: Batista resigns and flees Cuba.


January: Castro leads victorious rebel troops into Havana.

Febrary.: Summary executions begin for scores of people Castro calls “war criminals.”

April: Castro visits the United States, denies he’s a communist and says Cuba won’t confiscate foreigners’ properties. Promises free elections and good U.S. relations

May: Government expropriates all private land holdings over 3,200 acres.

1960: Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan visits Cuba. Government starts to seize control of news media; establishes diplomatic relations with Moscow; nationalizes U.S. and British oil companies; expropriates American-owned sugar refineries; gets its first military aid from Moscow; establishes the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; nationalizes commercial real estate.


April: Cuban exiles land at the Bay of Pigs and are defeated. Castro declares the revolution socialist, later says there will be no elections.

June: Cuba nationalizes education system.

Dec.: Castro declares he is a Marxist-Leninist and has been since the beginning.


February: Total U.S. trade embargo against Cuba goes into effect.

March: Food and soap rationing begin.

October: Soviet missiles are discovered in Cuba. Nikita Khrushchev agrees to withdraw them after a tense face-off with the United States.


October: Government allows exiles to sail to the port of Camarioca to pick up relatives. About 5,000 Cubans reach Florida. President Lyndon B. Johnson establishes “Freedom Flights” from Varadero to Miami. Some 260,560 Cubans reach U.S. soil by the time the program ends in April 1973.

1970: Castro accepts responsibility for failure of an all-out effort to harvest 10 million tons of sugar cane.


May: Government establishes harsh ideological restrictions on education and culture.

1974: U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger starts secret talks with Cuban officials.

1975: Castro sends about 18,000 soldiers to Angola. Washington suspends the talks.


December: New constitution that institutionalizes Communist Party control takes effect.

1977: About 10,000 Cuban soldiers are sent to defend Ethiopia against Somali attack.


November: Castro and Cuban exiles negotiate the release of 3,900 political prisoners and allowing exiles to visit relatives in Cuba.


April: More than 10,000 Cubans crowd into the Peruvian Embassy in Havana. Castro says anyone can leave through port of Mariel. About 125,000 reach Florida by late September


November: U.S. federal grand jury in Miami charges four high-ranking Cuban government officials with smuggling drugs. Cuba says the officials are falsely accused and will not be sent to the United States.


May: Cuba suspends payments on its $3.5 billion foreign debt.

July 26: In the face of reforms by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Castro calls for maintaining the ideological purity of the revolution within Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy.


July: Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, former head of Cuban troops who fought in Angola and Ethiopia, is executed along with three other officers convicted of drug trafficking.


August: With Moscow halting $4 billion-$6 billion in annual subsidies, Cuba imposes severe rationing. Castro declares “a special period in time of peace.”

October: Fourth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party approves foreign investment.


July: Castro announces that U.S. dollars will be permitted to circulate freely in Cuba; restrictions lifted on exile visits.

December: Castro’s daughter Alina Fernández Revuelta, 37, flees Cuba.


July: Thirty-two people drown when a tugboat with 63 aboard capsizes north of Havana while trying to flee the island. Survivors say the tugboat was rammed by government ships.

August: Hundreds of Havana residents stage the first street protest against the government in 35 years. Castro says anyone can leave, sparking the balsero crisis. At least 30,000 leave the island.

September: Cuba agrees to curb the exodus of rafters, and the United States agrees to grant legal entry to at least 20,000 Cubans a year.


February: Cuban air force fighters shoot down two Miami-based Brothers to the Rescue planes, killing four. U.S. Congress quickly passes the Helms-Burton Act tightening the embargo.


January: Following Pope John Paul II’s visit and request, Cuba frees some 300 prisoners.


February: National Assembly approves harsh new laws extending the death penalty to a broad range of common and political crimes, and requiring 20-year jail terms for supporting hostile U.S. policies.

November: Five-year-old Elián González is found clinging to an inner tube off the coast of Fort Lauderdale in a rafter tragedy, sparking an international custody dispute. After a seven-month battle, Elián returns to Cuba with his father.


June: Castro faints briefly while giving a speech.


May: Oswaldo Paya delivers The Varela Project, a petition urging the government to abandon its authoritarian system signed by 11,020 Cubans, to the National Assembly.

May: Former President Carter visits Cuba and in an uncensored TV appearance calls for an end to the U.S. embargo and appeals to Castro to allow democratic changes.

June: In apparent rebuke, Castro leads a march of thousands along Havana’s seaside Malecón, rejecting any political opening. Eight million Cubans sign a petition declaring the socialist system “untouchable.”


February-March: In one of Cuba’s harshest crackdowns, 75 dissidents are sentenced to prison terms ranging from 12 to 28 years after one and two-day trials.


May: Bush administration imposes tighter measures on travel and cash remittances to the island. Castro responds by announcing that U.S. dollars can no longer be used in Cuba.

October: Castro falls after a speech in Santa Clara, shattering his kneecap.


July: Castro, 79, suffers an “intestinal crisis’’ that requires surgery. He “temporarily” cedes most of his titles to his brother, 75-year-old Raúl Castro.

September: Castro says the worst of his health crisis is behind him. Ten days later, Cuba announces he will not preside over a Non-Aligned summit in Havana.


October: Castro makes a TV appearance to dispel rumors he’s on his deathbed: “I’m not worried; I have no fear of what may happen.”


March: Fidel begins writing his “Reflections” newspaper column

April: Photos of a healthier Castro meeting with high-level Chinese delegation are released. Later Chinese media report that the meeting was held in a hospital.


January: “My Life: A Spoken Autobiography”, a sort-of-autobiography that Castro has described as his written legacy, is published in English.

February: Castro announces he is stepping aside. Raul Castro assumes permanent leadership.


July: Castro makes his first public appearance since falling ill in an an interview on Mesa Redonda, a daily talk show. He talked about how tension between the United States and both North Korea and Iran could ultimately trigger a global nuclear war.

August: Castro appeared lucid and healthy during his first government function in four years


April: Castro is formally removed from the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party.


October: Pictures of Castro are released to dispel rumors surrounding his deterioration in health and possible death.


March: Castro’s closest ally, Hugo Chávez dies on March 5. Castro writes in Prensa Latina that ‘we have lost our best friend” the bond forged.


May: Juan Reinaldo Sánchez, former bodyguard for Castro, publishes a book of memoirs titled “The Secret Life of Fidel Castro” portraying the Cuban leader as a feudal lord that ran the island as a personal fiefdom.

December: Castro is awarded China’s version of the Nobel Peace Prize highlighting the Cuban leader’s “important contributions” to world peace.

Dec. 17: “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” President Barack Obama said in a surprise announcement. But publicly, Castro was mute on the new relationship with the United States.


September: Pope Francis met privately with Castro on Sept. 20, a meeting the Vatican described as “friendly and informal.” In the half-hour meeting at Castro’s residence, the two talked about the common problems of humanity, including environmental degradation, according to a Vatican spokesman. The Pope was one of a continuous stream of world leaders, celebrities and other high-profile visitors who sought out Castro in the years before his death.


April: Castro gave what was widely interpreted as a farewell address in April to the Cuban Communist Party’s VII Congress.

Aug. 13: Castro’s 90th birthday was celebrated as a major anniversary. Since the start of the year, the government had been organizing tributes from around the island.

Nov. 25, 2016: Castro dies. “The commander in chief of the Cuban revolution died at 22:29 hours this evening,” President Raúl Castro said.