Archive for Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fidel Castro resigns Cuban presidency after nearly half-century in power

February 19, 2008, 10:30 a.m. Updated February 19, 2008, 12:07 p.m.


Cuba's President Fidel Castro, left, votes in favor to the modification on the Cuban Constitution, as his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, looks at him during an extraordinary National Assembly session in Havana, in this June 26, 2002 file photo. Ailing leader Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba's president early Tuesday Feb. 19, 2008, after nearly a half-century in power, saying he will not accept a new term when the newly elected parliament meets on Sunday.

Cuba's President Fidel Castro, left, votes in favor to the modification on the Cuban Constitution, as his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, looks at him during an extraordinary National Assembly session in Havana, in this June 26, 2002 file photo. Ailing leader Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba's president early Tuesday Feb. 19, 2008, after nearly a half-century in power, saying he will not accept a new term when the newly elected parliament meets on Sunday.

— An ailing, 81-year-old Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba's president Tuesday after nearly a half-century in power, saying he will not accept a new term when parliament meets Sunday.

The end of Castro's rule - the longest in the world for a head of government - frees his 76-year-old brother Raul to implement reforms he has hinted at since taking over as acting president when Fidel Castro fell ill in July 2006. President Bush said he hopes the resignation signals the beginning of a democratic transition.

"My wishes have always been to discharge my duties to my last breath," Castro wrote in a letter published Tuesday in the online edition of the Communist Party daily Granma. But, he wrote, "it would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer."

In the pre-dawn hours, most Cubans were unaware of Castro's message, and Havana's streets were quiet. It wasn't until 5 a.m., several hours after Castro's message was posted on the internet, that official radio began reading the missive to early risers.

By sunrise, most people headed to work in Havana seemed to have heard the news, which they appeared to accept without obvious signs of emotion. There were no tears or smiles as Cubans went about their usual business.

"He will continue to be my commander in chief, he will continue to be my president," said Miriam, a 50-year-old boat worker waiting for the bus to Havana port. "But I'm not sad because he isn't leaving, and after 49 years he is finally resting a bit."

Castro temporarily ceded his powers to his brother on July 31, 2006, when he announced that he had undergone intestinal surgery. Since then, the elder Castro has not been seen in public, appearing only sporadically in official photographs and videotapes and publishing dense essays about mostly international themes as his younger brother has consolidated his rule.

There had been widespread speculation about whether Castro would continue as president when the new National Assembly meets Sunday to pick the country's top leadership. Castro has been Cuba's unchallenged leader since 1959 - monarchs excepted, he was the world's longest ruling head of state.

Castro said Cuban officials had wanted him to remain in power after his surgery.

"It was an uncomfortable situation for me vis-a-vis an adversary that had done everything possible to get rid of me, and I felt reluctant to comply," he said in a reference to the United States.

Castro remains a member of parliament and is likely to be elected to the 31-member Council of State on Sunday, though he will no longer be its president. Raul Castro's wife, Vilma Espin, maintained her council seat until her death last year even though she was too sick to attend meetings for many months.

Castro also retains his powerful post as first secretary of Cuba's Communist Party. The party leadership posts generally are renewed at party congresses, and the last one was held in 1997.

The resignation opens the path for Raul Castro's succession to the presidency, and the full autonomy he has lacked in leading a caretaker government. The younger Castro has raised expectations among Cubans for modest economic and other reforms, stating last year that the country requires unspecified "structural changes" and acknowledging that government wages that average about $19 a month do not satisfy basic needs.

As first vice president of Cuba's Council of State, Raul Castro was his brother's constitutionally designated successor and appears to be a shoo-in for the presidential post when the council meets Sunday. More uncertain is who will be chosen as Raul's new successor, although 56-year-old council Vice President Carlos Lage, who is Cuba's de facto prime minister, is a strong possibility.

"Raul is also old," allowed Isabel, a 61-year-old Havana street sweeper, who listened to Castro's message being read on state radio with other fellow workers. "As a Cuban, I am thinking that Carlos Lage, or (Foreign Minister) Felipe Perez Roque, or another younger person with new eyes" could follow the younger Castro brother, she added.

Bush, traveling in Rwanda, pledged to "help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty."

"The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy," he said. "Eventually, this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections - and I mean free, and I mean fair - not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as true democracy."

The United States built a detailed plan in 2005 for American assistance to ensure a democratic transition on the island of 11.2 million people after Castro's death. But Cuban officials have insisted that the island's socialist political and economic systems will outlive Castro.

"The adversary to be defeated is extremely strong," Castro wrote Tuesday. "However, we have been able to keep it at bay for half a century."

Castro rose to power on New Year's Day 1959 and reshaped Cuba into a communist state 90 miles from U.S. shores. The fiery guerrilla leader survived assassination attempts, a CIA-backed invasion and a missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Ten U.S. administrations tried to topple him, most famously in the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961.

His ironclad rule ensured Cuba remained communist long after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism across Eastern Europe.

Castro's supporters admired his ability to provide a high level of health care and education for citizens while remaining fully independent of the United States. His detractors called him a dictator whose totalitarian government systematically denied individual freedoms and civil liberties such as speech, movement and assembly.

The United States was the first country to recognize Castro's government, but the countries soon clashed as Castro seized American property and invited Soviet aid.

On April 16, 1961, Castro declared his revolution to be socialist. A day later, he defeated the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion. The United States squeezed Cuba's economy and the CIA plotted to kill Castro. Hostility reached its peak with the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

The collapse of the Soviet Union sent Cuba into economic crisis, but the economy recovered in the late 1990s with a tourism boom.


jonas 10 years, 1 month ago

See?! See?! It happened again!!!

Right-thinker: are you sleeping? Have you. . . slept?

oldvet 10 years, 1 month ago

Maybe now we can re-open trade with Cuba and I won't have to bring my cigars in from Europe trips...

justthefacts 10 years, 1 month ago

I hope that Cuba does open up a bit more. There are more reasons then just getting good cigars (or vacations)!

cato_the_elder 10 years, 1 month ago

The personification of tyranny. Perhaps one day freedom will return to what was once a beautiful island.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 1 month ago

If we would now get rid of the embargo, despite his brother, then we can bring some free trade to Cuba, then the democracy might follow.

I'll bet some of the car collectors will be drooling. Unless the hurricanes got them, there is suppose to be a lot of antique cars there. They kept them running, because they couldn't get more. Some poor cab driver who owns his own car could be in for a fortune.

Haiku_Cuckoo 10 years, 1 month ago

I hope the embargo never gets lifted. I've been to Cuba a couple times and I like it the way it is. If you lift the embargo, the place will soon turn into an American tourist hot spot with drunken spring breakers, McDonald's, WalMart, and middle aged white slobs wearing t-shirts that say "Jimmy Buffett is God." Cancun was a pleasant fishing village a few decades ago. Now it's a dump.

jumpin_catfish 10 years, 1 month ago

Good bye castro and che. may they both soon be forgotten!

moo 10 years, 1 month ago

I'm worried about that too. It would be sad for Cuba to become Jamaica: a resort island where no native inhabitants ever see the ocean unless they work in tourism. The tourist industry is at once such a blessing and a huge bane to the Caribbean Islands.

jonas 10 years, 1 month ago

"madmike (Anonymous) says:

Sounds like we have a couple of residents that have been by-passing the federal laws prohibiting travel to this communist country."

My goodness, I'm sure there would never be anyone on this board that at some point has bypassed federal laws prohibiting something!! Perish the very thought of it!

Lulu 10 years, 1 month ago

This is one of the sadist days in memory. He is a hero like Che Che Guevara to the peoples. Capitalism must be transcended.

moo 10 years, 1 month ago

Wow, classy RT. By female chauvinists, do you mean feminists? Because I would hazard a guess (based on a good deal of experience, both first and second hand) that at least as large a percentage of professed feminists enjoy sex as does anyone else (maybe more). Oh, and I at least believe prostitution should be legal. They are our bodies, and we should be able to use them as we please.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 1 month ago

Moo, Well we feminist enjoy sex with real men. Not the wham bang thank you ma'm types, like rt. The ones who can hold up a conversation afterwards.

A person who I studied with in Costa Rica went to Cuba for the weekend (no, it wasn't me; my small budget didn't even allow many trips to the beach). She came back with pictures and I commented how clean the streets were; did they have street cleaners or did they not litter? She said that since they were so poor there wasn't any trash to throw away.

moo 10 years, 1 month ago

Oh believe me, dorothyhr, I agree wholeheartedly. We feminists would never get that desperate.

jayhawklawrence 10 years, 1 month ago

The good thing about death is that bad people eventually die.

You have to seriously rethink our policy toward Cuba which has contributed as much as anything to their poverty.

If we can do business with Vietnam and China and Russia, we can do business with Cuba.

Might be tough for some of our politicos to accept a change in course.

kneejerkreaction 10 years, 1 month ago

Wow, perhaps soon we can buy over-priced & underaged Cuban cigars too!!!

But, they'll be from Cuba!!

jonas 10 years, 1 month ago

Hmmmm. . . . Right-thinker's posts dry up around 2:14. . . . . . and then we have a Lulu sighting at 3:15. . . . . . .

. . . . . . I wonder. . . . . .

jonas 10 years, 1 month ago

Oh, you misunderstand, Right-thinker. I don't actually think that you would be Aware of it, were it to even be the case. My premise is more of a Fight Club Tyler Durden duel-personality thing, caused by the unsupportable weight of the self-contradictory dogma that you carry around on your shoulders so bravely.

I have a similar theory about max1 and ferdinand-arminius-groenhagen. So much similarity.

jonas 10 years, 1 month ago

What? Strawman conspiracy? No, I'm just saying that you're potentially insane, and have a duel personality manifestation that you are probably totally unaware of. This is all, of course, just theory.

jonas 10 years, 1 month ago

Haven't you ever read or seen Fight-Club?

stevevanjames 10 years, 1 month ago

my father has been to Cuba a few times (legally) and he claims it's pretty swell and that people are generally happy... while i belive democracy would be a positive step in many ways, i also feel that it would destroy much of the beauty and independance of the nation...

Lulu 10 years, 1 month ago

Now jonas and right_thinker, I know sometime it is fun to fight. But you cannot do it. Because, it is in the law not to fight. It is barbaric. Do not fight over me, just one womyn living in a man's world trying to teach the youth of tomorrow. I am not worth a torn blouse. I am flattered to say at least.

If we lived in a free world, I could visit Cuba.

Christine Pennewell Davis 10 years, 1 month ago

I think a wait approach is needed in this situation, Just because fidel is stepping down means nothing things could get much worse Raul might be a bad thing. Not to mention that some might see the leadership as weakened and try a coup so yeah this is a wait and see.

stevevanjames 10 years, 1 month ago

you completly warped my statement, marion... which was expected...

stevevanjames 10 years, 1 month ago

i apologize for not clarifying my statement.... by "beauty" i was coming more from a cultural perspective, rather than literal beauty (nothing could change that beauty). Cuba is unique in many ways due to its history and culture. i'm not supporting communism and i realize that communism has drastically failed as a whole. i don't favor Cuba over the U.S. nor the U.S. over Cuba. they both have their positives and negatives and it's not my place to judge one over the other without personally experiencing both. i simply respect Cuba as something different, something beautiful. by "independence" i was referring to its self sufficient lifestyle after the U.S.S.R. fell and it's ability to survive these many years despite the constant pressures from the surrounding world. if Cuba pushes towards democracy, that's fine with me... it would "destroy" their current state, but there's the possibility that something even better could take its place... or it could turn into the next Cancun. who knows? maybe the country needs change, maybe it dosn't. whatever happens, happens...

stevevanjames 10 years, 1 month ago

and while he may have started out as a decent human with positive hopes and goals, che turned into a terrible individual... i can't respect that man, though i admit someone gave me a che shirt a while ago which happens to lurk in the deep dark reaches of my closet...

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