Ailing leader Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba’s president early Tuesday after 50 years in power, an announcement that sent shockwaves throughout the Cuban community.
Castro, who ran Cuba under socialist and one-party Communist rule, sent a letter announcing his resignation to the official Cuban website for Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper.
Castro received treatment for intestinal problems two years ago and cited his “critical health condition” in the letter published Tuesday. He said “it would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer. I will not aspire nor accept–I repeat I will not aspire nor accept–the post of President of the Council of State and Commander-in-Chief,” read the letter.
The 81-year-old Castro’s overnight announcement effectively ends his iron-fisted rule of a half century over Cuba. Although Castro’s supporters admired his ability to provide a high level of healthcare and education for citizens, his detractors called him a dictator whose totalitarian government systematically denied individual freedoms and civil liberties, such as speech, movement, and assembly.
“The U. S. embargo on Cuba will remain in place despite Fidel Castro’s announcement that he’s resigning as Cuba’s leader,” Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte, announced Tuesday in Washington.
The resignation places his 76-year-old brother, Raul, in line for permanent succession to the presidency.
Brian Latell, a former CIA top expert on Fidel Castro, said “Raul Castro is very different from his brother. Raul is more pragmatic, he’s more flexible, he’s a man with a very different leadership style,” Latell told CBS News. “I think he’s interested in implementing economic reforms. Not political reforms, but at least some economic reforms.”
Castro had already temporarily ceded his powers to his brother on July 31, 2006, when he announced that he had undergone intestinal surgery.
More than a year after falling ill, Fidel Castro had not been seen in public, appearing only sporadically in official photographs and videotapes as his younger brother began to consolidate his rule.
“Whether you love him or hate him, you just have to admit this man has played an enormous role on the world stage,” Latell told CBS’ The Early Show.
The announcement comes just as the new National Assembly meets Sunday to pick the governing Council of State, including the presidency Castro holds. There had been wide speculation about whether Castro would accept a nomination for reelection to that post or retire.
Since his rise to power on New Year’s Day in 1959, Castro resisted attempts by 10 U. S. administrations to topple him, including the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1981.
The guerrilla leader reshaped Cuba into a communist state and during his half-century of rule survived scores of assassination attempts, a CIA-backed invasion, and a missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
President George Bush, who is currently on a tour of Rwanda, said he hoped Castro’s resignation would begin a period of “democratic transition” in Cuba.
“The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build the institutions that are necessary for democracy,” Bush told reporters in Kigali. Bush said he hoped Castro’s departure from the presidency would lead to free and fair elections in Cuba.
Bush also said that Castro’s resignation “ought to begin a period of democratic transition beginning with the release of political prisoners.”