Ramon Castro, Cuban leader's older brother, dies at age 91

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Havana, Feb 24: Ramon Castro, a lifelong rancher and farmer who bore a strong physical resemblance to younger brother Fidel Castro, has died, state media has announced. He was 91, Cuban state media reported yesterday.

Widely known by his nickname "Mongo," the white-bearded Ramon Castro preferred tending crops and livestock to the revolutionary political life embraced by his younger siblings Fidel and Raul, who replaced Fidel as Cuba's president in February 2008.

Ramon Castro

Two years older than Fidel, Ramon was long used to getting double-takes from people who insisted he looked just like his famous brother. At times, Ramon was said to reply that because he was older, Fidel actually looked like him.

Ramon, Fidel and Raul were the second, third and fourth children of Angel Castro, a Spanish-born rancher, and his second wife, Lina Ruz. Angel Castro also had two other children from a previous marriage.

The three brothers attended Roman Catholic schools in eastern Cuba, where their teachers complained about their pranks and trouble making, prompting Angel to pull them out of classes for some time.

Once grown, Fidel and Raul headed off to Havana for studies, then the business of launching a revolution against dictator Fulgencio Batista, who seized power in a 1952 coup.

But Ramon Castro was content to remain in the village of Biran in eastern Cuba, where he helped his father with the family business. Nevertheless, Ramon remained in contact with his siblings.

He wrote letters to Fidel in prison when he and Raul and other followers were arrested after their unsuccessful 1953 attack on a military barracks that launched their armed struggle.

Sometimes along with the correspondence, Ramon sent along a ham or a box of cigars. According to letters from that period, Fidel asked Ramon to assure their parents that prison was not "a horrible and shameful idea. ... When one's motives are lofty and great, then it is an honorable place."

After Fidel and his followers established their rebel stronghold in Cuba's eastern mountains, there was at least one recorded instance of Fidel visiting the family ranch, where he feasted on a turkey that Ramon had kept frozen for months in hopes of such a visit.

Following the 1959 triumph of the Cuban revolution and Fidel's subsequent rise to power, Ramon often worked as a consultant for the government ministries of agriculture and sugar. In the early 1960s, he oversaw sugar production in eastern Cuba, where he helped increase output.

AP

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