Despite what more radical right-wing Cuban exiles say, Fidel Castro is that rarest of animals: a dictator who achieved wide popularity with his own people, even as he oppressed them.
The young lawyer from Oriente, who honeymooned in Miami and received $1,000 gift from the dictator he was to overthrow, Fulgencio Batista, has become a grey beard now, and more alone than ever after 40 years as uncrowned king of the island.
But there was a time when for many Cubans 'Fidel' as he is universally known in his home country, represented glamour, youth and a bright future, after he and his comrades overthrew the corrupt Batista and, as they saw it, finally gave Cuba some pride.
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born in 1926, the fifth of nine children, to Angel Castro, a flamboyant Spanish farmer. He was from the rural middle class, well-off but taunted when he went to private school for his rough country manners.
Castro went to law school and quickly got involved in social work, refusing to take any money from his poor clients. He married Mirta Diaz-Balart, a young woman from the Havana aristocracy, and had a son Fidelito. The pair were divorced after five years and Mirta went to live in Spain where she has maintained a total public silence over her marriage.
It was in 1953 that Castro and over 100 colleagues launched their armed revolution. As with Mao Ze Dong and the Long March in China, the attack on Moncada garrison was a prodigious failure in military terms which was turned into a huge political victory. Castro's men were almost annihilated as they sought to escape after failing to capture the garrison and he himself was put on trial.
During a mammoth five hour speech, Castro went down into Cuban...