February 16, 1959. Fidel Castro is sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba, beginning a near-50 year rule as the country’s leader. A leftist revolutionary since his student days, Castro took part in armed uprisings in the Dominican Republic and in Colombia.
On July 26, 1953 Castro led around 160 men in an attack on an army barracks in Cuba in an attempt to oust US-backed dictator General Fulgencio Batista. The raid failed and Castro was arrested and jailed. But he was released a year into a 15-year sentence after an amnesty offered by Batista.
Castro, by now a staunch defender of Marxist ideology, went to Mexico with his brother Raul and they enlisted into their July 26 Movement Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. They and a small group of men returned to Cuba to overthrow Batista’s regime and after two years of guerilla warfare, succeeded in forcing Batista into exile. Fidel Castro’s charisma made him the outstanding candidate to lead a new government.
Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976, he then changed his title to President of the Council of Ministers and – despite the best attempts by the United States to remove him – remained in charge of communist Cuba until 2008, when poor health forced him to hand power to his brother Raul.
Also on February 16: Lithuania declares its independence (1918); Archaeologist Howard Carter opens the tomb of Tutankhamun (1923); climate change treaty the Kyoto Protocol comes into force (2005).
Born on February 16: Ernst Haeckel (1834), Anna Pavlova (1881), Sonny Bono (1935), Kim Jong-il (1941), Ice-T (1958), John McEnroe (1959), Valentino Rossi (1979).