Then Cuban President Fidel Castro addresses the audience during an event with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez on Havana's Revolution Square in this February 3, 2006. Photo: Reuters/Stringer

Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolutionary leader who built a communist state on the doorstep of the United States and for five decades defied Washington’s efforts to topple him, died on Friday, state-run Cuban Television said. He was 90.

Castro had been in poor health since an intestinal ailment nearly killed him in 2006 and he formally ceded power to his younger brother two years later.

Wearing an olive colored military uniform, Raul Castro appeared on state television to announce his brother’s death.

“At 10.29 in the night, the chief commander of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, died,” he said.

“Ever onward, to victory.”

Castro’s remains will be cremated, according to his wishes.

Then Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro smokes a cigar during interviews with the press during a visit of US Senator Charles McGovern, in Havana in this May 1975 file photo. Photo: Reuters/Prensa Latina

The bearded Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution and
ruled Cuba for 49 years with a mix of charisma and iron will,
creating a one-party state and becoming a central figure in the
Cold War.

He was demonized by the United States and its allies but
admired by many leftists around the world, especially socialist
revolutionaries in Latin America and Africa.

Transforming Cuba from a playground for rich Americans into
a symbol of resistance to Washington, Castro outlasted nine US
presidents in power.

He fended off a CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in
1961 as well as numerous assassination attempts.

His alliance with Moscow helped trigger the Cuban Missile
Crisis in 1962, a 13-day showdown with the United States that
brought the world the closest it has been to nuclear war.

Wearing green military fatigues and chomping on cigars for
many of his years in power, Castro was famous for long,
fist-pounding speeches filled with blistering rhetoric, often
aimed at the United States.

At home, he swept away capitalism and won support for
bringing schools and hospitals to the poor. But he also created
legions of enemies and critics, concentrated among Cuban exiles
in Miami who fled his rule and saw him as a ruthless tyrant.

In the end it was not the efforts of Washington and Cuban
exiles nor the collapse of Soviet communism that ended his rule.
Instead, illness forced him to cede power to his younger brother
Raul, provisionally in 2006 and definitively in 2008.

Although Raul Castro always glorified his older brother, he
has changed Cuba since taking over by introducing market-style
economic reforms and agreeing with the United States in December
to re-establish diplomatic ties and end decades of hostility.

Six weeks later, Fidel Castro offered only lukewarm support
for the deal, raising questions about whether he approved of
ending hostilities with his longtime enemy.

In his final years, Fidel Castro no longer held leadership
posts. He wrote newspaper commentaries on world affairs and
occasionally met with foreign leaders but he lived in

His death — which would once have thrown a question mark
over Cuba’s future — seems unlikely to trigger a crisis as Raul, 85, is firmly ensconced in power.

— Reuters.