Fidel Castro resigns as Cuba's president
Fidel Castro resigns as Cuba's president
By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer 23 minutes ago
HAVANA - 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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
The collapse of the Soviet Union sent Cuba into
economic crisis, but the economy recovered in the late
1990s with a tourism boom.