Attempts made on Castro's life since he came to power in 1959: 638 (according to Fabian Escalante, former Cuban security chief).
Quote attributed to Castro: "If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal."
Selected CIA plots:
* The exploding cigar. Scientist contaminated Fidel's favourite brand with botulinum toxin, but the cigars were never delivered.
* The exploding conch. Exploiting Castro's love of scuba diving, the CIA planned to pack a mollusc with explosives and paint it in bright colours to attract Castro's attention.
* The poison wetsuit. Plans to send Castro scuba-diving equipment contaminated with deadly fungi were never followed through.
* The LSD. Agents planned to spray Castro's TV studio with the drug in an attempt to induce a humiliating psychedelic episode live on air.
* The lover. The CIA recruited a woman who was in a relationship with Castro. Agents gave her poison pills, which she hid in a jar of cream. She aborted the mission when they dissolved, but Castro, who was aware of the plot, handed her his gun. "I can't do it, Fidel," she told him.
Number of US teams Castro is rumoured to have been scouted by in the 1940s: 2 (the New York Yankees and the Washington Senators).
Truth in the rumours: none, but he is a fan and excelled at Cuba's national sport as a student.
Number of teams that make up the Cuban National Baseball League: 16
Occasions on which Cuba has competed in baseball at the Olympic Games: 4
Olympic record: Gold in 1992, 1996 and 2004; silver in 2000
Cuban boxers enshrined at the International Boxing Hall of Fame: Kid Chocolate, Kid Gavilan, Luis Rodriguez, Ultimino Ramos and Jose Napoles.
Gold medals won by Cuban boxers at the 2004 Athens Olympics: 5 (in 11 weight categories).
Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, on Castro's recovery from surgery last year: "He was moving his arms like a boxer. He looks like Cassius Clay."
Size of the original rebel army led by Castro and including Che Guevara that sailed to Cuba in 1956, eventually toppling President Batista on 1 January 1959: 82
Batista, who had ruled Cuba with an iron fist, fled to Portugal and then Spain, where he died in 1973. His widow, Marta, died in October last year.
Translated lyrics of Cuba's national anthem, first performed during the Battle of Bayamo in 1868:
Hasten to battle, men of Bayamo
For the Fatherland looks proudly upon you.
Do not fear a glorious death,
For to die for the Fatherland is to live.
To live in chains, is to live
In dishonour and ignominy.
Listen to the clarions call
To arms, brave men go!
BAY OF PIGS INVASION
Number of exiled Cubans who carried out the botched invasion of Cuba in 1961: 1,400 (with US support from the sea and the air).
Number imprisoned by Castro's forces after the three-day battle: 1,189
Number killed: at least 100
The force's main landing point was the Bay of Pigs, which was surrounded by mosquito-infested swamps. Their only way through was via three well-defended roads.
Months that passed before the Cuban Missile Crisis, of which the failed invasion is seen as a catalyst: 18
Percentage of the total value of imports to Cuba accounted for by China (2005): 14.9 (more than any other country).
Bilateral trade between Cuba and China (2005): $777m (£410m)
Number of refrigerators supplied to Cuba by China in a contract signed last year: 30,000
Age at which Castro began smoking cigars: 15
Age at which Castro gave up smoking cigars: 59
Preferred brand: Cohiba Esplendido
Brand of Cuban cigar favoured by former US President John F Kennedy: Petit Upmann Coronas
Number of Petit Upmanns Kennedy ordered his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, to buy the day before he signed the 1962 Cuban trade embargo (which stopped legal trade in Cuban cigars): 1,000
Number obtained by Salinger, according to an article he wrote in 1992: 1,200
Annual value of Cuban cigar exports: $200m
Finest Cuban cigar, according to Cigar Aficionado Magazine: Montecristo Edmundo (ranked second in the magazine's list of the top 25 cigars of 2005).
Acts of "civil disobedience" logged in Cuba in 2005, according to a report by the exiled Cuban Democratic Directorate: 3,322
In 2004 Cuba passed a law forbidding private citizens to access the internet. It is illegal to buy a computer without government approval, which is rarely granted to ordinary Cubans. Similar restrictions apply to the ownership of mobile phones.
Number of mobiles in Cuba (2005): 134,500
Number of internet users: 190,000
By comparison, Greece, which has roughly the same population (11 million), boasts 10 million mobile phones and 4 million internet users.
Area: 42,803 sq miles (about half that of the United Kingdom).
Population: 11,382,820 (July 2006 estimate).
Ethnic groups: 51 per cent mixed; 37 per cent white, 11 per cent black; 1 per cent Chinese.
Annual subsidies provided to Cuba by the Soviet Union prior to its collapse: up to $6bn. The loss of this support, as well as the US embargo, led to a recession known as the "special period".
Biggest export partners: Netherlands 25.4 per cent, Canada 20.7 per cent, China 9.8 per cent, Spain 6.8 per cent.
Biggest import partners: China 14.9 per cent, Spain 13.9 per cent, Canada 8.6 per cent, US 8.5 per cent.
Cuba's position on the Heritage Foundation's 2006 Index of Economic Freedom: 150 (out of 157 countries).
Average monthly state wage: $15-$20
Castro, on abolishing general elections in 1961: "The revolution has no time for elections. There is no more democratic government in Latin America than the revolutionary government."
Percentage of the 609-seat National Assembly that re-elected Castro in March 2003: 100
After Castro began nationalising American-owned land and aligned himself with the Soviet Union, the US responded by imposing a trade embargo. It remains in place 44 years later.
Critics call it an illegal attempt to destabilise Cuba. Cuban Foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque said last year: "The economic war unleashed by the US against Cuba qualifies as an act of genocide and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations."
Some accuse Castro of secretly supporting the embargo because it deflects the blame for his economic blunders.
Estimated annual loss to US exporters due to the embargo: $1.2bn
Result of last year's UN General Assembly vote on lifting the embargo: for: 183; against: 4 (USA, Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau).
Consecutive years that the UN has voted for the embargo to be lifted: 15.
Washington says it will lift the embargo only if Havana embraces democratic reforms.
FAMILY MEMBERS, NOTABLE
* Angel Castro, father. Moved to Cuba from Spain and prospered as a sugar farmer. Sired eight children, of whom six (including Fidel) were illegitimate.
* Raul Castro, brother. Vice-President, Defence minister and, more recently, acting President. Only emerged from his older brother's shadow when Fidel fell ill last year.
* Juanita Castro, sister. Emigrated to Miami, Florida in the 1960s. Subject of the 1964 Andy Warhol film, The Life of Juanita Castro. Criticised Miami's exile community after thousands celebrated the announcement of her brother's failing health.
* Alina Fernandez, daughter. Result of an affair during Castro's first marriage. Fled Cuba in 1993, disguised as a Spanish tourist. Now living in Miami, she is one of her father's most vocal critics. In 1998 she wrote Castro's Daughter: An Exile's Memoir of Cuba, which provoked a lawsuit from Castro's loyal sister, Juanita. Presents a talk-radio show called Simplemente Alina.
* Dalia Soto del Valle, second wife. The couple, who have been married for more than 30 years, have five sons: Alexis, Alexander, Alejandro, Antonio, and Angel. Castro has closely guarded his wife and sons' privacy and little is known about them.
Number of trademark olive-green military fatigue uniforms owned by Castro: unknown (though in 47 years as Cuban leader, he has rarely been seen wearing anything else).
* According to reports in the 1990s, Rotterdam designer Merel Van't Wout persuaded Castro out of his fatigues and fitted him for several suits in dark blue, grey and dark green.
* In recent videos released by Havana to quell rumours of Castro's demise, the leader has been seen wearing pyjamas and, on a separate occasion, an Adidas tracksuit in the colours of the Cuban national flag.
Castro's preferred form of capital punishment. It is not known exactly how many Cubans have been executed during his rule.
The Cuban authorities placed a moratorium on capital punishment in 2000, but a year later they introduced anti-terror legislation permitting its use in "extreme cases".
In 2003 three men were executed by firing squad after being convicted of a Cuban ferry hijacking in which nobody was hurt.
Number of executions since 2003: 0
Number of prisoners on death row, according to Amnesty International: more than 30.
FLORIDA, STRAITS OF
Shortest distance between Florida and Cuba: 90 miles (across the Straits of Florida).
Estimate number of Cubans who attempt the crossing each year: at least 3,000.
Number who die en route: unknown.
Number of individuals intercepted by the US coastguard in 2005: 2,952
Record year for such interceptions: 1994 (37,191, including 3,253 on 23 August).
Selected craft used in such attempts: fishing boats, dinghies, planks of wood, converted vintage cars.
First person to swim across the Straits: Susie Maroney, who in 1997 completed the 24-hour crossing in a shark-proof cage.
Number of official attempts made before the Australian's successful crossing (her second attempt): 50
* Number of Cubans killed in November 1999 when a boat carrying five-year-old Elian encountered a storm short of Florida: 11, including the boy's mother.
* Barely alive and tied to an inner tube, he was rescued by fisherman and later released to his Miami-based relatives by the US Coast Guard.
* Days of political wrangling that passed before US Attorney General Janet Reno ordered the return of Elian to his father's custody in Cuba: 138
* Number of immigration Swat team officers who in April 2000 stormed the Miami house where Elian was staying: 8
* Number of exiled Cubans arrested during the demonstrations that followed Elian's seizure: more than 250.
* Associated Press photographer Alan Diaz won a Pulitzer Prize for his image of an officer directing his machine-gun at a distressed Elian.
* Now 13 years old, Elian lives with his family in Cardenas, Cuba. His father is a waiter but in 2003 was elected to Cuba's National Assembly. A room in the town's museum is dedicated to Elian, and Castro was filmed at his seventh birthday party.
* The custody battle strained relations between Havana and Washington, and some say it directly affected the controversial 2001 presidential election result, in which the Florida count was decisive.
The rickety yacht used by Castro and his band of revolutionaries to sail from Mexico to Cuba in 1956. After toppling President Batista in 1959, Castro recognised the vessel's significance by assigning its name to a province, as well as the official newspaper of the Communist Party. It is now on permanent display next to the Museum of the Revolution in Havana.
The 45 sq miles of Cuban territory was ceded in perpetuity to the US under a treaty signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903.
Annual rent agreed in 1903: $2,000 in gold.
Rent cheques reported to have been cashed by Castro, an opponent of America's presence at Guantanamo: 1 (the first he received).
US troops at "Gitmo": more than 9,000.
Detainees held there since 2002: more than 750.
Inmates still imprisoned there without trial: more than 500.
Amnesty International, 2005: "The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times."
SELECTED ENTRIES FROM "TEN FACTS ABOUT GUANTANAMO", A US DEFENSE DEPARTMENT PRESS RELEASE PUBLISHED LAST SEPTEMBER:
* More money is spent on meals for detainees than on the US troops stationed there. Detainees are offered up to 4,200 calories a day. The average weight gain per detainee is 20lb.
* Detainees receive medical, dental, psychiatric, and optometric care at US taxpayers' expense. In 2005, there were 91 cavities filled and 174 pairs of glasses issued.
* Recreation activities include basketball, volleyball, soccer, ping-pong, and board games. High-top sneakers are provided.
* Entertainment includes Arabic-language TV shows, including World Cup football matches. The library has 3,500 volumes available in 13 languages - the most requested books are the Harry Potter series.
* The iconic Argentinian revolutionary was introduced to Fidel by his brother Raul, in Mexico in 1955. He joined Castro's movement to topple Cuban President Batista and became a key figure in the revolution.
* According to a 1967 British Foreign Office report released in 2004, London recognised Guevara as the second most important figure in Cuba after Castro.
* Guevara eventually left Cuba and continued to lead revolutionary movements in Africa and elsewhere, including in Bolivia, where he was killed by the Bolivian army in October 1967.
* In Cuba he remains a national hero. Each year more than 200,000 people visit his monument and mausoleum in Santa Clara.
Life expectancy at birth: male 75.11; female: 79.85 (US: 75.02; 80.82).
Infant mortality rate: 6.22 deaths per 1,000 live births (US: 6.43).
HIV/Aids adult prevalence rate: < 0.1 per cent (US: 0.6 per cent).
HIV/Aids deaths per 100,000 per year: 4.4 (US: 5.4).
Physicians per 1,000 population: 5.91 (US: 2.56).
Hospital beds per 10,000 population: 49 (US: 33).
Per capita GDP: $3,649 (US: $39,901) .
(SOURCE: CIA WORLD FACTBOOK; WHO)
25,000 Cuban doctors are on humanitarian missions in 68 countries.
Last year 1,800 doctors from 47 developing countries graduated from Cuba's 21 medical schools.
Each year more than 5,000 "health tourists" travel to Cuba, generating more than $40m for the Cuban economy.
Number of Cuban doctors sent to Venezuela to provide free healthcare: 20,000 (in exchange for, among other things, 90,000 barrels of oil per day - see VENEZUELA).
Number of Venezuelan doctors who joined a march in protest last year: 400
Number of doctors Fidel Castro offered to send to the US to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina: 1,586
Castro, two days after making the offer: "We have received absolutely no response."
HEALTH SCARES, SELECTED
* July 1998: Castro flatly denies reports in a US newspaper that he has been treated for a potentially fatal brain disease.
* June 2001: Two hours into a speech being broadcast live from Havana, Castro faints at the podium.
* January 2004: After meeting Castro in Cuba, Luis Eduardo Garzon, mayor of Bogota, Colombia, tells a radio station: "He seemed very sick to me... you could tell he had physical limitations, especially in his speech."
* May 2004: Denying rumours of Castro's failing health, his doctor, Eugenio Selman Housein, says the Cuban leader could live at least to the age of 140.
* October 2004: At the end of a televised public speech, Castro trips and falls as he walks from the podium, shattering a kneecap and fracturing his right arm.
* November 2005: A leaked CIA report concludes that Castro is suffering from Parkinson's disease. Castro rejects the diagnosis, which apparently is based on analysis of his television appearances.
* July 2006: A spokesman for Castro announces the provisional transfer of power to Castro's brother, Raul. The reason: "an acute intestinal crisis, with sustained bleeding" requiring immediate surgery.
* November 2006: US officials say they believe Castro has cancer of the colon, stomach or pancreas and is unlikely to survive through 2007.
* December 2006: Diplomatic sources close to Castro say he is refusing treatment for stomach cancer and could be dead by Christmas.
* December 2006: The Spanish surgeon treating Fidel Castro says the ailing Cuban leader does not have cancer and is recovering slowly from a serious operation.
HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD
Number of Cubans in prison for political reasons, according to a 2005 report by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation: 306
Number of political dissidents, journalists and human rights advocates imprisoned in a government crackdown in 2003: 75
Average prison sentence handed down after their trials: about 20 years (ranging from six to 28 years).
Number who remain in prison, according to Human Rights Watch: 61.
SELECTED EVIDENCE ON WHICH PRISONERS HAVE BEEN PROSECUTED AND IMPRISONED:
* Publishing articles or giving interviews said to be critical of economic, social or human rights matters in Cuba.
* Communicating with international human rights organisations.
* Having contact with those viewed as hostile to Cuba's interests, including US officials in Cuba, or members of the Cuban exile community.
* Cubans must obtain official permission to leave or return to the island. It is often denied, sometimes punitively.
* Cuba declines all requests from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to visit the island.
* Human rights awards won by Fidel Castro: 1 (the Muammar Gaddafi Human Rights Prize, presented in 1998 by the Libyan leader in recognition of Castro's "resistance to imperialism and defence of democratic values").
LONGEST SERVING LEADER
Percentage of Cubans who have known no other leader: about 70
The world's 10 current longest serving national leaders (excluding monarchs):
1. Fidel Castro, Cuba: 47 years
2. Omar Bongo, Gabon: 39
3. Muammar al-Gaddafi, Libya: 37
4. Khalifa ibn Salman Al Khalifa, Bahrain: 36
5. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Maldives: 28
6. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea: 27
7. Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Angola: 27
8. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe: 26
9. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt: 25
10. Paul Biya, Cameroon: 24
Estimated net migration (2006): minus 1.57 people per 1,000.
Total number of Cubans believed to have emigrated since Castro came to power in 1959: about 1.4 million (81 per cent of whom have settled in North America).
Under the US "wet foot, dry foot" policy, of the 3,000 Cubans who each year attempt the crossing to Florida, those who make landfall are afforded immigrant status, while those intercepted at sea are usually deported.
Number of days such immigrants are required to remain on US soil before they can apply for permanent residency: 366
Number of Cubans who benefited from this policy between 1994 and 2005: 18,500
Critics of successive US administrations claim the relatively soft policy towards Cuban immigrants is part of an effort to destabilise the island and undermine Castro's leadership.
MISSILE CRISIS, CUBAN
Alternative names: "Caribbean Crisis" (Russia); "October Crisis" (Cuba).
Number of nuclear missiles shipped to Cuba by the Soviet Union in 1962, according to Fidel Castro: 162
Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev and Castro agreed to the missile installations to protect the island from US invasion and to counterbalance US superiority in the Cold War arms race.
Number of days that October the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war: 14
* 14 October: Photographs taken from US aircraft reveal missile launch sites.
* 16 October: President John F Kennedy is informed and considers his response.
* 22 October: In a televised address, President Kennedy denounces the Soviets' actions and threatens the USSR with attack if Cuban missiles are fired at the US. He declares a naval blockade around Cuba as both sides prepare for war.
* 26 October: Khrushchev agrees to withdraw the missiles in return for a US guarantee not to invade Cuba and the removal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Kennedy agrees publicly to the first demand, and privately to the second.
* 28 October: Khrushchev announces the removal of missiles from Cuba.
Number of entries for Fidel Castro on movie website IMDB.com: 88 (of these, 85 are documentaries, but a pre-revolutionary Castro appeared as an extra in three 1940s Hollywood films.
He is listed as an "uncredited extra" in the 1946 musical Holiday in Mexico and as a "poolside spectator" in the romantic comedy Easy to Wed (also 1946).
It is also claimed he featured in the 1942 film You Were Never Lovelier, starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth.
Fidel Castro has faced 10 US presidents during his 47-year leadership.
1. Dwight Eisenhower 1953-61
2. John F Kennedy 1961-63
3. Lyndon Johnson 1963-69
4. Richard Nixon 1969-74
5. Gerald Ford 1974-77
6. Jimmy Carter 1977-81
7. Ronald Reagan 1981-89
8. George Bush 1989-93
9. Bill Clinton 1993-2001
10. George W Bush 2001-
Number of "organoponicos" (organic urban allotments) in Cuba: more than 7,000, totalling about 80,000 acres.
Number of such gardens in Havana: more than 200 (which supply the city with more than 90 per cent of its fruit and vegetables).
The organic revolution was seen by Castro as the only solution to the crisis brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had subsidised Cuban agriculture, and the US embargo.
UN figures for the average daily calorie intake per Cuban in the late 1980s: 2,600
Daily calorie intake in 1993 (after the collapse of the Soviet Union): 1,000-1,500 (8 per cent of the population was considered undernourished)
Current average daily calorie intake: 2,600 (less than 3 per cent of the population is considered undernourished).
When General Pinochet toppled Chile's socialist president, Salvador Allende, in 1973, Castro lost one of his closest allies.
Two years before the coup, Castro and Pinochet met in Santiago.
Pinochet on Castro, in an interview in the 1990s: "He had a lot of charisma with civilians because he's pretty macho, attentive with the ladies. But I didn't like him much."
The bottom of the Reporters Without Borders 2006 Press Freedom Index:
168. North Korea
* In 2003, 27 independent journalists were tried summarily and imprisoned in a wide-ranging crackdown on political dissent. The journalists received sentences of up to 27 years. A handful have been released conditionally.
* Current number of journalist imprisoned in Cuba: 25 (including two sentenced last month).
Number of prisons and correctional facilities thought to be in Cuba: more than 500.
Last year the UN described food and hygiene levels as "sub-standard" and medical care as "either unavailable or inappropriate".
According the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, thousands of young Cubans are in prison on the charge of "peligrosidad predelectiva" (that is, they are considered likely to commit a crime).
Cuba is one of the few countries in the world to deny the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisons.
Castro himself served two years of a 15-year sentence handed down after his failed attempt to topple President Batista. After a period of exile in Mexico he achieved his goal in 1959.
QUOTES, SELECTED FIDEL CASTRO
* "Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me." October 1953, while on trial for the failed rebel attack that launched the Cuban Revolution.
* "If Mr Kennedy does not like socialism, we do not like imperialism. We do not like capitalism. We have as much right to complain about the existence of a capitalist imperialist regime 90 miles from our coast as he has to complain about a socialist regime 90 miles from his coast." May 1961, at a parade in Havana.
*"We will win this battle for life, and not only for your lives, but also for the lives of all children in the world." December 1999, during the custody battle for Elian Gonzales.
* "Now, when our enemies have prematurely declared me moribund or dead, I'm happy to send to our compatriots and friends around the world this short film footage." October 2006, in a video released to quell rumours of his demise.
Percentage of Cubans who are Catholic: 85
Castro was himself raised a Roman Catholic but he expelled priests and nationalised Catholic schools soon after taking control of the country. In 1962 Pope John XXIII excommunicated the Cuban leader.
In 1998 Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to visit Cuba. That same year, Castro reinstated Christmas as a national holiday. In 2005 Castro visited Havana's cathedral to mourn the Pope's death.
Fidel's younger brother and acting President. Less charismatic than his brother, Raul, 75, has a reputation as Fidel's enforcer. He was a committed socialist before Fidel and played a key role in the revolution. He is not expected to play a long-term role post-Fidel (see SUCCESSION).
Castro is famous for his long speeches.
* Duration of a speech Castro made at the UN in 1960: 4 hours 29 minutes (listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the longest speech made in the United Nations).
* In 2000 Castro caused a rare outbreak of laughter at the greatest ever gathering of world leaders. Before beginning his speech at the UN Millennium Summit, he draped a white handkerchief over the yellow light that would, after five minutes, signal the end of his allotted time. He went on to speak for precisely five minutes, before removing the handkerchief and leaving the stage.
* Typical Castro sign-off: "Patriotism or death! Socialism or death! We shall overcome!"
Raul Castro, Fidel's 75-year-old brother and acting President, is Fidel's designated successor, but his rule is expected to be transitional.
THE POST-CASTRO CONTENDERS:
* Felipe Perez Roque, Foreign minister. Only member of the Cuban cabinet to be born after the 1959 revolution. A fierce critic of the US trade embargo, he describes Cuba as a "country under siege". Key figure in Cuba's growing trade relations with China. Nicknamed "Fax" for his faithful devotion to Castro.
* Ricardo Alarcon, President of the National Assembly. Formerly Castro's representative at the UN and Fidel's chief advisor on US relations. Remains close to the leader. Third highest ranked in the cabinet, behind Fidel and Raul.
* Carlos Lage Davila, Secretary of the Council of Ministers. Less well known outside Cuba but a key player in the country's economic affairs. Instrumental in post-Soviet economic reforms and recently secured a subsidised supply of oil from Venezuela.
* Fidelito Castro, Fidel's son. Wild-card in the succession stakes. Ran Cuba's nuclear energy programme until his dismissal in the early 1990s. Recently appointed as an adviser to his father, to whom he bears a striking resemblance.
SUPPORTERS, HIGH PROFILE
* George Galloway. The MP is as fond of Castro as he is of Cuban cigars. He said in an interview in 2004: "I think Castro is by far and away the greatest person I have ever met." He also claims once to have joined Castro for a midnight swim.
* Ken Livingstone. On a controversial visit to Cuba last month, the London Mayor called Castro's Communist revolution "one of the high points of the 20th century".
* Naomi Campbell. During a 1998 trip to Havana, the supermodel compared Castro with Nelson Mandela. She said: "Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela are two sources of inspiration for me. Two men who fought for... a just cause. Two intelligent, impressive men."
* Diego Maradona. The retired Argentinian footballer has a tattoo of Castro on his left leg. In 2005 he secured a rare interview with the Cuban leader on his talk show La Noche del 10. He has said of Castro: "For me, the comandante is a god."
* Steven Spielberg. The film director described a 2002 meeting with Castro as "the eight most important hours of my life".
* Pierre Trudeau. The former Canadian Prime Minister forged a friendship with Castro in the 1970s. In 2000 Castro had a rare encounter with a US President when he and Jimmy Carter attended Trudeau's funeral in Montreal.
* Oliver Stone. The acclaimed director praised Castro while promoting his film Comandante in 2003. He said: "We should look to him as one of the Earth's wisest people, one of the people we should consult." Later that year cable network HBO cancelled plans to screen the film, saying it looked "dated" following Castro's crackdown on dissent (see HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD).
Castro, at a speech in 1998: "Tourism has a great future and it is up to us to take over as much of that market as possible."
Average annual growth in tourism in the Caribbean (including Cuba) during the past five years: 4.3 per cent
Average annual growth in tourism in Cuba during the same period: 19.3 per cent
Visitors to the island in 1999: 1.9 million
Visitors to the island in 2005: 2.5 million
By the end of 2005 the number of hotel rooms on Cuba had reached 50,000.
Cuba is a popular destination for American tourists but direct flights are only available with the permission of the US government, which restricts travel to journalists, students and a few other groups.
Cuba has a reputation as a destination for sex tourists. In 2004 US President Bush accused Castro of "welcoming" the trade. An indignant Castro suggested Bush's accusations were rooted in his "alcoholic past".
UBRE BLANCA (WHITE UDDER)
Quantity of milk yielded by Ubre Blanca, a cow turned propaganda tool, on 23 June 1982: 110 litres (four times the average yield)
The feat was acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records to be the highest reported milk yield in a day.
Castro seized the opportunity to visit the farm and appeared on television stroking the cow, pointing out that no American animal could match White Udder's productivity.
The cow featured daily in Granma, the Communist Party's official newspaper, and earned a full obituary on its death in 1985. Castro commissioned a marble statue of Ubre Blanca, who was also stuffed and put on permanent display at the National Cattle Health Centre near Havana.
In an effort to boost milk production, which fell drastically when Soviet subsidies dried up in 1989, Cuban scientists attempted in 2002 to clone Ubre Blanca, but failed.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez openly admires Fidel Castro as his political mentor.
In 2000 the two leaders sang a duet live on Venezuelan radio.
Venezuela is an important trading partner for Cuba and part of what Chavez has called the "axis of good" - an anti-American trading bloc that includes Bolivia.
Barrels of oil Venezuela sends to Cuba each day: 90,000 (at heavily subsidised prices).
In return, Cuba provides Venezuela with, among other things, doctors and, in 2005, free eye treatment for 5,000 people.
Size of Fidel Castro's fortune, according to Forbes' Rich List 2006: $900m
According to Fidel Castro, it's $0
An incensed Castro appeared on TV to dismiss the Forbes claim, calling it "repugnant slander".
In May last year George Galloway appeared on Cuban TV to defend Castro. He said: "The Cubans are the only people in the world who have a leader who can say that he doesn't possess one dollar to his name."
Forbes admits that estimating the wealth of world leaders is "more art than science", but says the figure is based on Castro's "economic power over a web of state-owned companies".
Some claim the true figure is in fact much higher, pointing to "the Comandante's reserves", billions of dollars in real estate, yachts and other assets in Europe, Latin America and Asia.
Cuba has been described as the largest American car museum in the world.
An estimated one-sixth of Cuba's 500,000 cars were imported from the US in the 1950s. The supply of classic "yank tanks" stopped when America declared a trade embargo in 1962, forcing Cubans to become experts in car maintenance.
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