Highlights in the life of Fidel Castro:

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_Aug. 13, 1927 _ Castro born to wealthy sugarcane planter.

_1945-53 _ Student leader, University of Havana, earning law degree in 1950. Practices private law in Havana 1950-53, championing rights of poor.

_Oct. 12, 1948 _ Marries Mirta Diaz-Bilart (divorced, 1955).

_March 10, 1952 _ Gen. Fulgencio Batista takes power in coup, establishing military dictatorship in Cuba.

_July 26, 1953 _ Castro leads failed raid on Moncada army barracks in Santiago, declares ``history will absolve me'' at subsequent trial, sentenced to 15 years in prison.

_May 15, 1955 _ Castro freed in general political amnesty and heads to Mexico to organize guerrilla force.

_Dec. 2 1956 _ Fidel Castro, brother Raul, and Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ``Che'' Guevara land yacht Granma in Cuba with 82 rebels. Dozens of fighters are killed by Batista's army, but leaders gain foothold in Sierra Maestra mountains and open war with growing volunteer force.

_Jan. 1, 1959, Batista driven into exile and Castro assumes power, laying foundations for first communist nation in West.

_January 1961 _ Diplomatic ties broken between Cuba and United States.

_April 17, 1961 _ Some 1,300 CIA-trained Cuban exiles attempt invasion at Bay of Pigs. Most are taken prisoner.

_December 1961 _ Castro proclaims Cuba is on a Marxist-Leninist course.

_Feb. 3, 1962 _ President Kennedy signs executive order imposing trade embargo on Cuba.

_October 1962 _ Cuban missile crisis draws United States and Soviet Union to brink of confrontation when U.S. spy planes uncover Soviet intent to put nuclear weapons in Cuba. Soviets agree to withdraw missiles.

_April 1981 _ Thousands of dissidents occupy Peruvian Embassy in Havana, leading to Mariel boatlift. More than 120,000 refugees sail for Florida, including many ``undesirables'' put aboard flotilla by Cuban authorities.

_Aug. 29, 1990 _ Cuba announces austerity measures aimed at helping overcome an economic crisis as Soviet bloc crumbles.

_August 5, 1994 _ Discontent over worsening economy sparks riots in Havana and exodus of 30,000 Cubans fleeing on boats and homemade rafts. The United States and Cuba later sign immigration treaty to halt flow.

_Feb. 28, 1996 _ Cuban Air Force shoots down two civilian planes piloted by Cuban-American exiles off the island nation's coast. Four are killed.

_March 12, 1996 _ President Clinton signs law toughening economic sanctions against Cuba.