Fidel Castro retires

After nearly 50 years in power, Fidel effectively hands the reins to his younger brother, Raúl Castro.
By Sara Miller Llana | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
from the February 20, 2008 edition

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Mexico City – For the first time in nearly half a century, Fidel Castro has stepped down as president of Cuba.

The announcement caps a year and a half of limbo and speculation since Mr. Castro fell ill and temporarily ceded power to his younger brother, Raúl Castro.

“I will not aspire to nor accept – I repeat, I will not aspire to nor accept – the post of President of the Council of State and Commander in Chief,” read a letter that appeared early Tuesday morning in the Community Party daily Granma.

It is a pivotal moment in the island nation’s history. Castro rose to power on New Year’s Day in 1959, and quickly became a nemesis of the United States as he turned Cuba into a communist country. Throughout the cold war – and since – US presidents have attempted to topple him with no success. Many Cubans have no memory of anyone other than Castro as the head of state. Even when he handed temporary power to his brother in July 2006, there was an expectation that he would return.

“It’s a very big moment; he has governed the country for half of its independent life,” says Philip Peters, a Cuba expert and vice president of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.

But beyond the symbolic nature of the move, the impact that his resignation will have on the country remains unclear. Many expected a resignation announcement this weekend, when the new National Assembly meets to choose the country’s new leadership. Castro won a parliamentary seat during elections in January, and will likely be elected to the 31-member Council of State.

Unclear how much will change

Still, many experts say that little will change so long as Castro is alive. “It’s not clear what his continuing hovering presence means for the country,” says Dennis Hays, former official of the Cuban-American National Foundation, an organization dedicated to replacing Castro’s regime with a market-based government. “No one wants to make a move while the ‘jefe’ [boss] is still alive…. If the Cuban government moves in any way that repudiates the ways of [Castro], it undermines the whole legitimacy of the power structure.”

The letter signed by Castro on Tuesday was ambiguous about who would succeed him. Mr. Peters says that the orthodox members of Cuba’s Communist Party could push for Raúl Castro to continue leading the country, since Raúl hails from the older generation of those who fought in the revolution. But Fidel has hinted at the capabilities of the younger generation, too. Carlos Lage, the council’s vice president, could also be a contender. In any case, Peters says that a form of collective leadership will likely emerge, no matter who carries the title.

“I think the most notable thing is that [Castro] is leaving on his own terms,” says Peters. “He is retiring. It was neither invasion, nor covert operations, nor the embargo nor the tightening of sanctions, nor President Bush’s policies that have pushed him out. It is an orderly constitutional succession.”

That, he says, will instill confidence in the populace.

Economic reforms ahead?

But Mr. Hays says the atmosphere could change. Raúl Castro has hinted at economic reforms in the past 18 months. He has said that some of the country’s prohibitions are excessive and some state enterprises dysfunctional. It is unclear at what pace, and how deep, economic reforms could take place under new leadership. “But people are expecting something to change,” says Hays. “And they want things to happen quickly. If [the new leadership] doesn’t show progress, it could be a difficult path.”

Mr. Bush spoke Tuesday about Castro’s announcement from Rwanda, during his five-country trip to Africa. “The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy,” said Bush. “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.”

But no one expects any change in terms of the political system. “They have put economic reform on the agenda,” says Peters. “The whole drama of this year is going to be whether they deliver or disappoint.”


3 Responses to “Fidel Castro retires”

  1. Free to think, free to believe... Says:

    I must admit that I do find the way Castro is going is the smoothest and possibly the most peaceful way that could happen – so here’s hoping.

    It was with a sense of irony that I heard Bush condemn the ‘Castro’ regime for holding political prisoner – ah, the Patriot Act and torture around the world… Nevermind – it seems we’re getting rid of both of them and we’ll have to see if what comes next – in both cases are improvements or not.

  2. patricksperry Says:

    Question. Who was actualy tortured? Water boarding, is a mental trick, not torture. Been there, done that, and had it done to me.

  3. Free to think, free to believe... Says:

    Well… Some of the inmates of Abu Ghraib might say that more than ‘waterboarding’ was used on them… including the fellow who died during incarceration… source was The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo…

    Under the Patriot Act folk can be whizzed away to ‘third parties’ who can then not be logged for what they do – so why is that? And that also goes to the fact that the american ‘intelligence services’ can pick folk up without any hard evidence – which reminds me of political prisoners…

    Water boarding as a trick – only if you’re in ‘the know’ otherwise I think the term ‘psychological torture’ could be used – even if you are the toughest cookie, others aren’t.

    I understand that there are folk out there who want to do a disproportionate amount of damage (suicide bombers and the like) but I’d like to make two points – ‘disappearing’ folk from their communities can act as what is colloquially called a ‘recruitment sergeant’ and that in Northern Ireland the British State found that by merely taking someone out of circulation for a good length of time (say 5yrs) ended most terrorist careers…. I did spend time in Belfast and dug around for it’s past to see (as an outsider) what I could try to figure out from it’s murky past.

    It is tremendously important to understand why folk become militarized – the youngster of 14yrs that was stopped by the Israelis was sent on a media tour and he said that he fell in with some militants because he didn’t like going to school (which his parents sent him to, as good parents do) and they told him not to worry about school, just wear this… It’s a terrible story but to water board that youngster? That would only add damage and terror to a bewildered and lost teenager… and do we know who the USofA is using water boarding on?

    One of the things I would hope for is that with Bush gone (whether or not you agree with him) would allow to try to present a face of US that will no longer be so easy to militarize folk against. Which could only be a good thing I’d have thought.

    Sorry that this comment rambled on but well, I think you’ve raised an important issue.

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