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Fidel Castro resigns as Cuba's president

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080219/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/fidel_castro Fidel Castro resigns as Cuba s president By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer 23 minutes
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 19, 2008

      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
      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

      "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

      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.
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