Weird and wonderful: the facts about Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro is retiring after almost half a century as leader of Cuba, leaving in his wake some fascinating facts:

LONGEST-SERVING LEADER: Fidel Castro was the world's third longest-serving head of state, after the Queen of Britain and the King of Thailand. He was its longest-serving government leader when illness forced him to hand over power to his brother in July 2006.

LONGEST SPEECH: Castro's holds the Guinness Book of Records title for the longest speech ever delivered at the United Nations: 4 hours and 29 minutes, on Sept. 29, 1960. His longest speech on record in Cuba was 7 hours and 10 minutes in 1986 at the III Communist Party Congress in Havana.

ASSASSINATION PLOTS: Castro claims he survived 634 attempts on his life, mainly masterminded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. They involved poison pills, a toxic cigar, exploding mollusks, a chemically tainted diving suit and powder to make his beard fall out so as to undermine his popularity.

OUTLASTED NINE US PRESIDENTS: Despite CIA plots, a US-backed exile invasion at the Bay of Pigs and four and a half decades of economic sanctions, Castro outlasted nine US presidents, from Eisenhower to Clinton, and faced increased hostility under George W. Bush, who tightened enforcement of financial sanctions and a travel ban.

LAST CIGAR PUFF: Castro, once a cigar-chomping guerrilla fighter, gave up cigars in 1985. Years later he summed up the harm of smoking tobacco by saying: "The best thing you can do with this box of cigars is to give them to your enemy."

FAMILY: Castro has at least eight children. His eldest son Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, the spitting image of his father and known as Fidelito, is a Soviet-trained nuclear scientist. Daughter Alina Fernandez, the result of an affair with a Havana socialite when he was underground in the 1950s, escaped from Cuba disguised as a tourist in 1993 and is a vocal critic of Castro on her Miami radio program. Castro has five sons with his second wife Dalia Soto. Their names all begin with A. The youngest, Antonio, is the national baseball team's doctor.

RECORD-BREAKING COW: One of his pet projects was a cow called Ubre Blanca (or White Udder) that produced prodigious quantities of milk and became a propaganda tool for Cuba's collectivized agriculture in the 1980s. Ubre Blanca is in the Guinness Book of Records for the highest milk yield by a cow in one day - 110 litres (29 U.S. gallons).

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