Fidel Castro retires as president of Cuba
After nearly 50 years in power, Fidel effectively hands the reins to his younger brother, Raul Castro.
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The announcement caps a year and a half of limbo and expectation since Mr. Castro fell ill and temporarily ceded power to his younger brother Raul Castro.
Mr. Castro came to power on New Year's Day 1959, and became the nemesis of the US as he turned Cuba into a communist state. Throughout the cold war, and well beyond, US presidents have attempted to topple him – with no success. Many Cubans have no memory of anything other than Castro as their head of state.
But beyond the symbolism, his resignation is not likely to mean an immediate change in how Cuba is run; it merely formalizes the dynamic that has been in place since Raul Castro took over as acting president.
Many analysts expect a gradual leadership transition, and perhaps some economic reforms. But Fidel will likely remain a key influence, much as he has been since undergoing intestinal surgery in the summer of 2006.
"The most notable thing is that he is leaving on his own terms. 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," says Philip Peters, a Cuba expert and vice president of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. "It is an orderly constitutional succession."
In a letter that appeared Tuesday in the Communist Party daily Granma, Castro wrote: "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."
Castro remained ambiguous on who will succeed him – which is expected to be cleared up Sunday when the National Assembly convenes to choose its new leadership – but many analysts predict Raúl Castro will stay on. "You will still have Fidel around with the revolutionary legitimacy, while Raúl makes the trains run," says Daniel Erikson, a Cuba expert at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.
Raúl Castro has hinted at economic reforms, but many say that he has been reined in by his older brother over the years. "If you look at the expectations when [Raúl became acting president in July 2006], there was a feeling that things would in fact happen," says Dennis Hays, former official of the Cuban-American National Foundation, an organization dedicated to replacing Castro's regime with a market-based government. But little has changed, he says. "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 Fidel, it undermines the whole legitimacy of the power structure."