Fidel Castro, the communist revolutionary who presided over Cuba for nearly half a century, has died at the age of 90. Castro’s younger brother Raul, who succeeded him as Cuba’s president in 2008, announced the news on Cuban state television late Friday night.

For fifty years, Castro — usually pictured bearded, with a patrol cap on his head and a cigar in his mouth — captured the American political imagination as the face of communism in Cuba: a country at once 90 miles from Florida and a world away, severed by the ideological and political gulf of the Cold War.

His leadership was marked by a ready defiance of the massive democratic superpower to Cuba’s north. He survived a series of assassination plots orchestrated by the U.S. government — hundreds of them, according to Cuba — and steered his country as it was crippled by the trade embargo imposed by the U.S. in 1960. He lived to see relations between the two states finally thaw. In March, President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly nine decades — albeit with Castro’s deep misgivings.

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