AP PHOTOS: A look at Fidel Castro through the years

HAVANA (AP) " For five decades, Fidel Castro was Cuba's defiant, polarizing leader, from the island nation's 1959 revolution to the 1962 missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war and through the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union that devastated Cuban economy.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled throughout his rule as Castro became a symbol of both political revolution and suppression. He survived countless assassination plots, crippling U.S. sanctions and the withering of communism around the world.

In the end, most Cubans are struggling economically, with vintage American cars trundling down Havana's decaying streets, even as Castro's Cuba is held up as a beacon of socialist progress, a haven for education and medicine in Latin America.

When Castro finally gave up power to his brother in 2006, he was, aside from monarchs, the world's longest-running leader.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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