Castro steps down as Cuban leader


Richard Moore

Castro steps down as Cuban leader

Cuba's ailing leader Fidel Castro has announced he will not accept another term 
as president, ending the communist revolutionary's 49 years in power.

The 81-year-old handed over power temporarily to his brother Raul in July 2006 
when he underwent surgery and has not been seen in public since then.

Cuba's new parliament will meet on Sunday to elect a new president.

Washington has called for Cuba to hold free elections, and said its decades-long
embargo would remain.

President George W Bush said the US was ready to help the "people of Cuba 
realise the blessings of liberty".

A senior US state department official, John Negroponte, added that the 1962 
embargo would probably not be lifted "any time soon".

The European Union said it hoped to relaunch ties with Cuba that were almost 
completely frozen under Mr Castro, while China described Mr Castro as an old 
friend and said it would maintain co-operation with Cuba.

Mr Castro has ruled Cuba since leading a revolution in 1959.

The BBC's Michael Voss reports from Havana that most Cubans will be saddened by 
news of their leader's retirement, but many hope the political transition will 
bring economic improvements.

Soldiering on

Mr Castro made his announcement in a letter published on the website of the 
Cuban Communist Party's newspaper Granma in the middle of the night, Cuban time.

He said he would not accept another five-year term as president when the 
National Assembly met on Sunday.

"It would betray my conscience to take up a responsibility that requires 
mobility and total devotion, that I am not in a physical condition to offer," he

Mr Castro said he had not stepped down after undergoing emergency intestinal 
surgery in 2006 because he had had a duty to the Cuban people to prepare them 
for his absence.

But retirement, he added, would not stop him from carrying "on fighting like a 
soldier of ideas", and he promised to continue writing essays entitled 
Reflections of Comrade Fidel.

"I will be one more weapon in the arsenal that you can count on," he said.

Search for new leader

The National Assembly is widely expected to elect Raul Castro, 76, as Fidel's 

Born in 1926 to a wealthy, landowning family
Took up arms in 1953, six years before coming to power
Brother Raul was deputy and Che Guevara third in command
Has outlasted nine American presidents
Target of many CIA assassination plots
Daughter is a dissident exile in Miami

He has mooted major economic reforms and "structural changes".

But some analysts see a possible generational jump, with Vice-President Carlos 
Lage Davila, 56, a leading contender.

Anyone hoping that Fidel Castro's departure from the political scene would bring
about the end of the communist regime was disappointed, the BBC's Nick Miles 

Whilst Cuban exiles celebrated in Miami, Florida, there were no protests on the 
streets of Havana calling for political change.

In part, our reporter says, this is because the regime does not tolerate dissent
- but it is also because many in Cuba are wary of what change will probably 
mean: a mass influx of exiles returning from Miami.

Raul Castro has worked to ensure a smooth political transition, keeping the army
loyal to the regime and strengthening the Communist Party's hold by introducing 
reforms and weeding out corrupt officials.

He has also had the advantage of continued economic support from Venezuelan 
President Hugo Chavez in the form of millions of barrels of cheap oil, our 
reporter adds.

Mixed legacy

It is not clear whether Mr Castro's retirement was prompted by a further decline
in his health - the state of which is an official secret.

Though Fidel Castro has not been seen in public for 19 months, the government 
occasionally releases photographs and pre-edited video of him meeting visiting 
leaders from around the world.

The retiring leader will be remembered as one of the most distinctive and 
enduring icons from the second half of the 20th Century, the BBC's Paul Keller 

With his olive green fatigues, beard and Cuban cigars, Fidel Castro was the 
original Cold Warrior.

Under his leadership Cuba established the first Marxist-Leninist state in the 
Western hemisphere, almost within sight of the US coastline.

Embracing communism and the patronage of the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro 
transformed Cuba economically and socially but had to struggle when it 

He leaves his country with universal free healthcare and a much-admired 
education system, which has produced doctors for the developing world, but also 
a failing economy.

Published: 2008/02/19 16:16:41 GMT


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