President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba – the first by an American president in 88 years – has opened a new chapter in US engagement with the island's Communist government after decades of hostility. For more than 50 years, Cuba was an unimaginable destination for a US president as well as most American citizens. The US severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro's revolution sparked fears of communism spreading to the Western Hemisphere. In this gallery, IBTimes UK looks back at key events in the life of Fidel Castro and the relationship between the former Cold War foes.

The son of a wealthy sugar planter, Fidel Castro won international infamy by leading a guerrilla campaign that, with popular support, ousted right-wing dictator General Fulgencio Batista on 1 January 1959. Castro launched a political, social and economic revolution that transformed the Caribbean island. He was aided in creating the first communist administration in the Western Hemisphere by his close friend, revolutionary icon and Argentine native, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.

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July 1953: Fidel Castro gives a statement after being arrested for a failed attack on the Moncada Barrackse in Santiago de Cuba. Castro was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment but was released the following yearAFP
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Portrait of Fidel Castro in 1955 during an interview in New YorkAFP
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Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro with soldiers of the Rebel Army en route to Havana in 1959. He became prime minister in February of that yearGetty
Cuba-US relations history
January 1959: Fidel Castro gives an address after former dictator Batista is forced to flee CubaKeystone/Getty
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Ernesto 'Che' Guevara plays golf as Fidel Castro stands behind him at Colina Villareal in Havana in this undated pictureReuters
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15 April 1959: Cuban president Fidel Castro shakes hands with American vice-president Richard Nixon during a press reception in Washington, DCGetty
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April 1959: Fidel Castro addresses the American Society of Newspaper Editors during a meeting in Washington, DCGetty Images
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23 April 1959: Fidel Castro is presented with an invitation to the New York Press Photographer's BallGetty
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1960: US writer Ernest Hemingway awards three trophies to Cuba's revolutionary leader Fidel Castro after a fishing contest in CubaAFP
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Fidel Castro smiles with guerrilla leader Ernesto 'Che' Guevara duringh a meeting held in Havana some time in the 1960sAFP

Castro's belligerently anti-US stance made him the target of a series of attempts by Washington to remove him. These included an abortive invasion attempt at Cuba's southern Bay of Pigs in 1961 by more than 1,000 Cuban exiles trained and financed by the US Central Intelligence Agency. Shortly after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Havana and Moscow signed a pact agreeing to secretly install Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuban soil. The world was brought to the brink of nuclear war when Washington discovered their existence. The tension did not subside until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missile sites.

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1961: Members of Castro's militia pose in the Escambry Mountain area of Cuba during the ill-fated US-backed Bay of Pigs invasionGetty
Cuba-US relations history
1961: Members of Castro's militia look at the bodies of some of those who participated in the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of CubaGraf/Three Lions/Getty
Cuba-US relations history
April 1961: Cuban President Fidel Castro enters a public trial for captured members of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Some 1,500 Cuban exiles, organised and armed by the CIA, came ashore in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Castro. The invaders never got beyond the mosquito-infested swamps surrounding the Bay of PigsReuters
Cuba-US relations history
October 1962: A reconnaissance photograph showing a Soviet ballistic missile base in Cuba. On seeing this evidence, US President John F Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of CubaKeystone/Getty
Cuba-US relations history
24 October 1962: US President Kennedy speaks during a televised speech to the nation about the strategic blockade of Cuba, warning the Soviet Union that it would retaliateGetty
Cuba-US relations history
1962: A P-2 Neptune US patrol plane flies over a Soviet freighter during the Cuban missile crisisGetty
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May 1963: Cuban President Fidel Castro and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev pose during an official visit to MoscowAFP

Castro continued to foster close relations with Moscow that were to last for three decades. During the 1980s, after years of economic struggle, Cuba began to enjoy reasonable prosperity, largely due to trade agreements with the Soviet Bloc. By the end of the decade, however, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was moving Soviet republics towards a market economy, and in 1989 he visited Havana in an attempt to persuade Castro to accept change. Castro insisted Cuba should follow old-style communist doctrine and isolated himself from the bloodless revolution that resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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5 July 1968: Fidel Castro shows a photograph in which General Ovando Candia and other members of the Bolivian Army celebrate the murder of Che GuevaraGetty
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28 May 1972: Fidel Castro relaxes in a swimming pool during a visit to RomaniaReuters
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September 1973: Cuban leader Fidel Castro looks at a rifle during a visit to North Vietnam during the Vietnam WarAFP
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30 January 1979: Iraqi vice-president Saddam Hussein stands with Cuban president Fidel Castro and defence minister General Raúl Castro in HavanaAFP
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4 September 1986: Fidel Castro jokes with his counterparts Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega during the non-aligned countries summit, in Harare, ZimbabweAFP
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8 January 1989: A white dove lands on Cuban president Fidel Castro's shoulder as he delivers a speech at a ceremony to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution in HavanaAFP
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3 April 1989: Cuba's president Fidel Castro and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev gesture during an event in HavanaReuters
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10 May 1994: Cuban President Fidel Castro gets a quick photographic lesson from photographers before South African President Nelson Mandela's inauguration at the Union Buildings in PretoriaAFP
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13 December 1994: Fidel Castro greets retired Venezuelan military officer Hugo Chavez upon his arrival at Jose Marti airport in HavanaAFP
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22 October 1995: Cuban leader Fidel Castro (middle row, far left) and US President Bill Clinton (bottom row, far-right) look at each other as world leaders take their places for a group photo in the United Nations building in New YorkAFP
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23 October 1995: Fidel Castro waves a boxing glove in the air during an appearance at a restaurant in the Bronx, New York CityAFP
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1 December 1995: Cuban President Fidel Castro tours the Great Wall of China during his nine-day official visit of the countryAFP
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17 October 1996: Fidel Castro, flanked by his Salvadoran President Armando Calderon Sol and Colombian President Andres Pastrana, participates in an induction ceremony by the Port Wine Fraternity for the 19 heads of state at the eighth Ibero American summit at the Bolsa Palace in Porto, PortugalAFP
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2 September 1998: South African President Nelson Mandela greets Cuban leader Fidel Castro as he arrives for the opening of the 12th Non-Aligned Movement summit in DurbanAFP
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18 November 1999: Cuban President and honorary coach Fidel Castro smiles after a friendly game between veterans from Cuba and Venezuela. Cuba won 5-4. Castro admitted that Cuba's victory came about by a trick he played on his rivals. In the final innings of the game, several professional Cuban baseball players took to the field disguised with moustaches, beards and wigs, pretending to be old menAFP

With the loss of his old trading partners and the continuance of US trade embargo, Cuba's economy almost immediately went into a steep decline. Food and consumer-goods shortages became acute, and rationing of food and fuel was introduced during what was to become known as the 'Special Period'. In the summer of 1994, when Cuba was suffering its worst post-Soviet economic crisis, more than 30,000 Cubans took to the sea in boats and rickety rafts heading for the southern tip of Florida. Most were picked up by the US Coast Guard and ended up in the US, but many lost their lives in the shark-infested waters.

In June 2000, a bitter seven-month custody battle ended with six-year-old Elian Gonzalez returning home to Cuba. Elian was rescued at sea off the US coast after surviving a boat wreck that killed his mother and 10 other would-be migrants from Cuba. Elian's return was seen as a major political victory for Castro, who blamed US immigration legislation for encouraging Cuban migrants.

Cuba-US relations history
22 August 1994: US coast guards scramble to rescue a group of Cuban refugees after their raft capsized during the Balseros Crisis, when thousands of people tried to reach the US on makeshift raftsDoug Collier/AFP
Cuba-US relations history
2 March 1996: People throw flowers in the ocean after Cuban jets shot down two planes operated by the Brothers to the Rescue group dedicated to saving migrants found at sea, killing four pilotsRhona Wise/AFP
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6 December 1999: Cuban President Fidel Castro meets with Juan Miguel González Quintana, father of Elián González. Castro demanded that the US return Elián to his father, who said the boy was kidnappedAdalberto Roque/AFP
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22 April 2000: US federal agents take Elián González from Donato Dalrymple, one of the two sport fishermen who rescued him at seaAlan Diaz/Reuters
Cuba-US relations history
28 June 2000: Elián González (R), his cousin, nanny and stepmother wave from a mobile lounge at Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC as he is returned to CubaMark Wilson/Getty
Cuba-US relations history
30 June 2010: Cuban President Raúl Castro talks with Elián González in a church of Havana during the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Elián's return from the USAdalberto Roque/AFP

Castro continued to be a global icon for leftist leaders, and kept close ties with his protégé, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Yet health continued to plague Castro in the new millennium as he fainted during speeches and finally began to accept a transfer of power. Castro's health finally gave out in June 2006, when a serious intestinal ailment forced him to hand provisional power over to his younger brother, Raúl Castro.

Cuba-US relations history
14 May 2002: Former US President Jimmy Carter and Cuban President Fidel Castro listen to the Cuban national anthem at a baseball stadium in Havana, in a meeting that was seen as an attempt to bridge four decades of Cold War feuding between the two countriesRafael Perez/Reuters
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1 May 2005: Cuban President Fidel Castro listens to a speaker during the May Day parade in Havana's Revolution SquareReuters
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3 February 2006: Fidel Castro addresses the audience during an event with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez on Havana's Revolution SquareReuters
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13 August 2006: Cuban leader Fidel Castro appears in one of the first photos taken after three failed operations for intestinal problemsAFP
Cuba-US relations history
Pictures of Cuban President Fidel Castro ranging from his early childhood to 2006, when he ceded power to his brother Raúl after undergoing what he called "delicate intestinal surgery"AFP
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13 August 2006: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez visits his ailing Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro at his bedside in HavanaReuters
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28 September 2010: Former Cuban President Fidel Castro delivers a speech in Havana. His brother Raúl took over as president on 24 February 2008AFP
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In an undated photograph released on 11 July 2014, Cuba's former president Fidel Castro talks with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in HavanaReuters
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11 May 2015: French president Francois Hollande shakes hands with retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro during a private meeting in HavanaReuters
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20 September 2015: Pope Francis and former Cuban president Fidel Castro hold hands in HavanaReuters

The younger Castro has proven more welcoming towards America than his brother. Obama's trip may help chip away at barriers to US-Cuba trade and travel. Since rapprochement, the two sides have restored diplomatic ties and signed commercial deals on telecommunications and scheduled airline service.

Cuba-US relations history
30 September 2014: Members of the Cuban Revolutionary Army hold national flags during a march in honour of five Cuban intelligence officers who were arrested in 1998 and convicted in Miami in 2001, of conspiracy to commit espionage, murder and other crimes in the USAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Cuba-US relations history
20 December 2014: Gerardo Hernández, one of the so-called 'Cuban Five', reacts with his wife Adriana Pérez during a concert in Havana. The US helped Hernández, who was convicted of spying and imprisoned in California, to artificially inseminate his wife in Cuba. Hernández was serving a double life sentence until his release as part of a prisoner swap, which was completed on the same day that the US and Cuba announced they would restore diplomatic ties after more than 50 yearsEnrique de la Osa/Reuters
Cuba-US relations history
20 January 2015: Alan Gross, recently released from prison in Cuba, reacts as he is mentioned by US President Barack Obama during his State of the Union addressJoshua Roberts/Reuters
Cuba-US relations history
11 April 2015: Cuba's President Raul Castro pretends not to hear questions from journalists as he and US President Barack Obama pose for photos at a bilateral meeting during the Summit of the Americas in Panama. Neither president took questions from the press, but shook hands in a symbolically charged gestureJonathan Ernst/Reuters
Cuba-US relations history
A Cuban man wearing a T-shirt with the US flag looks at publications about Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Malcolm X on a street in HavanaYamil Lage/AFP
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21 March 2016: US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro gesture after a news conference as part of President Obama's three-day visit to Cuba in HavanaCarlos Barria/Reuters

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