Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary And Dictator, Dead At 90

Until 1993, the Castro government quarantined people living with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitariums.

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.

African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela (C) greets Cuban Olympic boxer Teofilo Stevenson (L) 25 July 1991 in Havana. Stevenson --who won 301 of the 321 fights he took part-- died of a heart attack at the age of 60 in Havana on June 11, 2012.  (FILM)  AFP PHOTO/RAFAEL PEREZ        (Photo credit should read RAFAEL PEREZ/AFP/GettyImages)
RAFAEL PEREZ/AFP/GettyImages

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.

From left, Cuban revolutionaries, Premier Fidel Castro and National Bank President Ernesto Che Guevara (center), share a laugh with Russian politician and Soviet First Deputy Chairman Anastas Mikoyan (1895 - 1978) (right) who was on a state visit, Havana, Cuba, 1960. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
PhotoQuest/Getty

“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.

Cuban director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro, participates in a march against homophobia on May 14, 2016 in Havana. / AFP / YAMIL LAGE        (Photo credit should read YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images)
Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty

More recently, Fidel Castro’s niece Mariela Castro EspĂ­n 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.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery