Fidel Castro was born on his father’s sugar plantation near the town of Biran in eastern Cuba on Aug. 13, 1926.
His father, Angel Castro, was an immigrant from Spain. His mother, Lina, was a former maid.
They had seven children: Four sisters, Angelita, Juanita, Emma and Augustina; and three sons, Ramon, Fidel and Raul.
Fidel Castro grew up around poor immigrants from Haiti, Barbados and other Caribbean nations. They worked on his father’s plantation, which has been restored and is open to tourists.
Castro attended Mixed Rural School No. 15 on the grounds of the plantation. On a clear summer morning, historian Alietty Castro walked into the one-room school and pointed out Fidel Castro’s seat in the classroom.
“He studied here when he was very small,” said Castro, who is not related to the former Cuban leader. “Ever since he was very little, he was quite intelligent, very restless, but also very astute. He was a person who from an early age identified with the children in the area.”
The parents of most of those children were poor and worked on the sugar plantation. Living and studying among the poor likely helped develop Castro’s interest in social justice, the historian said.
Fidel Castro’s headquarters during the final months of the Cuban Revolution was a simple two-room shelter hidden in the Sierra Maestra, a rugged stretch of peaks along Cuba’s southern coast.
Castro and his rebel forces were battling U.S.-backed Cuban leader Fulgencio Bastista and his 10,000 troops.
In 1958, Batista launched his most ambitious military offensive of the war. It was called Operation FF, which stood for Fase Final (Final Phase) or, alternately, Fin de Fidel (the End of Fidel).
Castro and about three dozen other rebels fled into the densely forested Sierra Maestra to escape Operation FF.
Castro’s confidant, Celia Sanchez, designed the rebel headquarters, which was built into a hillside and under a canopy of trees that shielded it from government planes.
The headquarters was known as La Comandancia de la Plata. Government forces never discovered it, Operation FF failed and Castro declared victory on Jan. 1, 1959.
The command post was later declared a national monument and workers restored it, along with 15 other wooden huts in the area.
For years, visitors could go to La Plata by invitation only, but the landmark is now open to tourists.
To get there, tourists must travel along Cuba’s steepest road, with inclines of up to 40 degrees. They pass through a village called Santo Domingo, then to El Alto de Naranjo, another 700 meters (2,300 feet) in elevation. They must go by foot or mule the final three kilometers (1.9 miles) to La Plata.
Fidel Castro has critics throughout Cuba, but some followers remain loyal to him because he brought real change to their lives.
Farmers who live in the green hills of the Sierra Maestra credit Castro for building schools, health clinics and roads after the 1959 revolution.
The rebel government also broke up chunks of land and distributed them to the poor.
“Fidel is the father of all Cubans,” said Ernesto Anaya, 45, who lives in Santo Domingo, a village nestled in the Sierra Maestra. “For me, he’s my father.”
Anaya’s home is east of La Comandancia de la Plata, a smattering of wooden huts where Castro holed up during the final months of the Cuban Revolution.
One of Anaya’s children is in medical school. The other plans to study engineering. Getting such an education, Anaya said, would not have been possible without the Cuban revolution.
His wife, Arcadia Verdecia, agrees.
She met Castro when he visited Santo Domingo in 2003 and considers the memories “sacred because I saw him up close for the first time.”
“I spoke to him. I looked at him,” she said. “A personality so big, with that importance, it’s not easy having him so close to you.”
Verdecia believes that Castro will be remembered “as something big that happened in life.”
“We’ll always have him with us,” she said.