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Fidel Castro: key dates in a life that defined modern Cuba

To understand how Fidel Castro became the man that he did, it helps to look back on his childhood.

Aug. 16, 1926: Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz is born on his family's sugar plantation near Biran, Oriente province, Cuba, the third of six children.

1945: Castro enters Law School at the University of Havana, where student activism, violence and gang fights were common occurences. He acquires a reputation for personal ambition, forcefulness and fine oratory.

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1947-48: He leaves the university temporarily to enroll in an abortive attempt to overthrow Dominican dictator Rafael L. Trujillo. He is active in riots in Bogota, Colombia, roaming the streets distributing anti-U.S. propaganda and inciting the populace to revolt.

1948: He marries Mirta Diaz-Balart, the daughter of a wealthy family. They have one child, Fidelito. The marriage ends in 1955.

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1950: Castro graduates and begins practicing law in Havana.

July 26, 1953: To oppose the military coup that brought Fulgencio Batista to power, Castro and a group of approximately 150 followers attack the Moncada military barracks in Oriente. He is captured, tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The attack and the speech Castro makes at his trial outlining his political and economic ideals make him famous throughout Cuba.

1955: After being released in an amnesty, Castro travels to Mexico and begins organizing an expedition against Batista.

Dec. 2, 1956: Fidel, his brother Raul and 80 men land in Oriente. After encounters with the army in which all but 12 of the expeditionaries are killed or captured, Castro flees to the Sierra Maestra mountains to form the nucleus of a guerrilla operation.

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Jan. 1, 1959: The day after Batista flees Cuba, Castro assumes power. He is 32. As supreme "comandante" of the armed forces and prime minister, he begins the political, economic and social transformation of the country, launching agrarian reform and nationalizing most foreign and local businesses. 1959 is also marked by purges of military leaders and suppression of critical media.

February 1960: Cuban-Soviet trade agreement signed; soon afterward, Cuba establishes diplomatic relations with Moscow and most other Communist countries.

1961: In January, President Dwight D. Eisenhower breaks off relations with Cuba. In April, Castro declares Cuba a socialist state, and the U.S.-supported Bay of Pigs invasion by anti-Castro exiles fails, consolidating Castro's power. In December, Castro openly espouses communism, saying, "I am a Marxist-Leninist, and shall be one until the end of my life."

Feb. 7, 1962: U.S. imposes a full economic embargo on Cuba that is still in force today.

October 1962: Crisis sparked by the installation of Soviet missles in Cuba, 90 miles from the coast of Florida, brings the world the closest it has been to the brink of nuclear war. Negotiating directly with the U.S., the Soviets agree to withdraw the missiles, humiliating Castro.

1965: Castro founds the new Cuban Communist Party and is named first secretary.

1966: Castro founds the Asia-Africa-Latin-Amercia People's Solidarity Organization in Havana to promote revolution on three continents.

1975: Castro sends troops to Angola to help its left-wing government fight South Africa-backed rebels.

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1976: Castro becomes Cuban president, ratified by newly created Natuonal Assembly.

1980: Castro opens the port of Mariel to allow Cuban-Americans in South Florida to come claim their relatives. In all, nearly 120,000 Cubans leave the island, most via a massive boatlift.

1991: The collapse of the Soviet Union sends the Cuban economy into a tailspin.

Aug. 5, 1994: Hundreds of Havana residents riot in the biggerst anti-Castro disturbance since the revolution.

August-September 1994: More than 35,000 people leave Cuba in flimsy rafts and boats, prompting a migration agreement with the United States to allow a minimum of 20,000 legal entry visas to Cubans annually.

Jan. 21-25, 1998: Castro welcomes Pope John Paul II in first visit by a pontiff to Cuba.

February 1999: Castro introduces the most severe legislation Cuba has ever experienced, condemning dissidents, journalists and others who deviate from the party line to 20 to 30 years in prison.

Nov. 25, 1999-June 28, 2000: Castro launches a mass anti-U.S. campaign for the return of a 6-year-old boy rescued at sea off Florida after surviving a shiopwreck that killed his mother. Elian Gonzalez is eventually returned to Cuba and his father, a major propaganda coup for Castro.

March 18, 2003: Castro launches a crackdown on dissidents; 75 pro-democracy activists and independent journalists are jailed; prompting international criticism.

Oct. 20, 2004: Castro smashes left knee in fall after speech on the steps of the Che Guevara mausoleum in Santa Clara.

July 2006: Castro undergoes surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding. He designates his brother Raul as temporary leader.

Feb. 19, 2008: At age 81, and almost 19 months since last appearing in public, Castro announces he will not return as Cuban head of state and government. His brother Raul is elected president by the Cuban National Assembly that same month.

Feb. 24, 2008: Cuba's National Assembly named Raul Castro to head the Council of State, Cuba's top post.

Jan. 1, 2009: Cuban revolution turns 50

Feb. 25, 2009: Treasury Department eases travel to Cuba after President Barack Obama signed into law measures to make more frequent trips to Cuba legal for Cuban-Americans who wish to  visit family members once a year and spend as much as $179 a day without fear of prosecution.

Apr. 19, 2011: Raul Castro, 79, succeeds his brother as party leader.

Sept. 17, 2011: First charter flight from Fort Lauderdale to Cuba since 1987 took off.

July 1, 2015: Obama announces the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba as the two countries were reopening their embassies after more than 50 years.

Sept. 20, 2015: New rules by the Obama administration let authorized U.S. companies set up stores, warehouses and offices in Cuba without prior U.S. approval; permit U.S. telecom companies to partner with Cuba's state phone company; and let authorized U.S. travelers set up bank accounts in Cuba.

March 20, 2016: President Barack Obama, on the first trip by a U.S. president to Cuba in 88 years – when then President Calvin Coolidge visited in 1928—lands at Jose Marti International Airport,  accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama and her two daughters.

May 1, 2016: Carnival's Fathom Adonia, with 700 travelers, left Miami for a rendezvous with history, destined to become the first U.S. cruise ship in half a century to dock in Cuba.

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Nov. 25, 2016: Fidel Castro dies at age 90.

Compiled by Barbara Hijek

Sources: AP, Tribune papers, Sun-Sentinel archives, government documents, Associated Press, World Book Encyclopedia, Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, CIA World Factbook, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami; Reuters, Biography.com

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