Fidel Castro, former Cuban leader and one of the last warriors of the old War, died Saturday night shortly after 12:30am.
He was 90.
His younger brother and successor, Raul Castro, announced the news on state television—adding the revolutionary slogan “Towards victory, always!” Official mourning will continue until December 4.
Castro toppled the Batista government in 1959, introducing Communist rule and becoming the longest serving non-monarch in modern history.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, Cuba was allied with the Soviet Union, much to the consternation of American leaders. There were hundreds of assassination attempts and a decades-long trade and travel embargo against Cuba has only begun to thaw as President Obama loosened restrictions and restored diplomatic ties.
As Fidel grew older and frailer, he transferred power to Raul, who officially became president in 2008.
Castro’s reign was marked by stark human rights abuses: At the outset, hundreds of Batista supporters were executed, political opponents were imprisoned and the press was muzzled.
The LGBT community was particularly persecuted, with effeminate boys made to undergo conversion therapy and thousands of gay men sent to forced labor camps, known as Military Units to Aid Production, where their heads were shaved and they were made to work from dawn to dusk.
“We would never come to believe that a homosexual could embody the conditions and requirements of conduct that would enable us to consider him a true revolutionary, a true Communist militant,” Castro said in 1965.
“A deviation of that nature clashes with the concept we have of what a militant communist must be.”
By the 1990s, Castro publicly denounced anti-LGBT policies but raids on gay clubs and harassment of homosexuals and transgender people continued unabated. People living with HIV/AIDS were quarantined in state-run sanitariums until 1993.
More recently, Fidel Castro’s niece Mariela Castro Espín has taken on the role of activist for LGBT rights in Cuba. Opponents of the Castro regime, however, claim she merely a government pawn to distract from human rights abuses.