Fidel Steps Down from Presidency

Fidel Castro is officially retiring as the leader of Cuba after almost half a century. In a message to the communist nation Castro said he would not seek a new presidential term when the legislature meets this Sunday.

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BILL WOLFF (Announcer): From NPR News in New York, this is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

Live from the NPR studios at Bryant Park in mid-town Manhattan. This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. News, information, constructive dialogue -I'm Alison Stewart.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Hey, I'm Rachel Martin.

It's Tuesday, February 19th, 2008. The end of my long weekend, Alison.

STEWART: Welcome back and Happy Birthday on behalf of the staff and our listeners.

MARTIN: Thank you. It was my birthday yesterday and Alison had recommended something to me. You said go on vacation in your town. Go on vacation in New York.

STEWART: Something to do.

MARTIN: Pretend that you're coming in and you do the stuff that you never do in your regular life. So I did. I took taxis everywhere. I went to some, you know, museums.

STEWART: You saw something cute in the store, you bought it. You didn't think you might need it.

MARTIN: I did.

STEWART: You thought, no. I deserve this.

MARTIN: I deserve this.

STEWART: I'm on vacation.

MARTIN: It was great. I highly recommend it. It doesn't matter where you live. It doesn't have to be New York.

STEWART: It could be anywhere.

MARTIN: Go on vacation in your home town.

STEWART: Some of the best restaurants in town. Have a good time. Well, welcome back. Glad you had a good birthday. We've got a very, very full show. You came back on a big news day.

MARTIN: I know. There's so much going on. It's interesting. We're going to check in with a man named David Wallechinsky. And he has compiled a top 10 list of the world's worst dictators. Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf is on the list. Fidel Castro is not but his brother Raul is in the top 20.

STEWART: We also have presidential contest today in Hawaii, Washington State and Wisconsin, that if you think you'd be watching the Wisconsin primary with such anticipation, hmm. But with the Democratic delegate count so tight, Badger State in the spot light. So we're going to find out, you know, what is Wisconsin about? It's an enigma wrapped in a riddle. We'll find out later on.

MARTIN: And privacy in the Internet - an age old issue. We're going to grill down on this. How much can your company eavesdrop on what you're doing right now at this very moment? A lot actually. It's a story that we are ripping off from the headlines.

I'm going to walk you through the day's headlines - the news headlines in just a minute. But first, here is the BPP's big story.

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STEWART: Fidel Castro is officially retiring as the leader of Cuba after almost half a century as commander in chief. In the message to the communist nation, Castro said he would not seek a new presidential term when the nation's legislature meets this Sunday.

MARTIN: The 81-year-old has not appeared in public for almost 19 months since he underwent emergency stomach surgery in July 2006. His younger brother Raul has been running the country since then and is expected to be nominated as president.

STEWART: In response to the news, President Bush who's traveling in Africa said this.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Eventually, this transition (unintelligible) 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 being true democracy.

MARTIN: The announcement marks the end of a reign that began in 1959 when Castro led guerilla forces down form the mountains of eastern Cuba to overthrow U.S. dictator Fulgencio Batista.

STEWART: Castro's retirement closes a career that span the cold war and survive U.S. wrath, assassination plots by the CIA and the demise of the Soviet bloc communism.

Now if you want to get some idea of how long Fidel Castro was in power, this is what the news sounded like in 1959 when Castro celebrated the beginning of the revolutionary movement that brought him to power.

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Unidentified Man: One million machete-wielding peasants jam the square before Cuba's national capital in response to the call of Fidel Castro for a celebration of the sixth anniversary of his 26th of July revolutionary movement. It is perhaps the greatest mass rally ever staged in the western hemisphere. A telling demonstration of Castro's sway over the Cuban masses.

STEWART: Now, two years after that report, the U.S. broke off relations with Cuba. President Eisenhower's Press Secretary James Hagerty made the announcement.

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Mr. JAMES HAGERTY (President Eisenhower's Press Secretary): There is a limit to what the United States, in self-respect, can endure. That limit has now been reached. Our friendship for the Cuban people is not affected.

STEWART: Castro's retirement does not mean the end of one party communist rule in Cuba and his statement today said, quote, "this is not my farewell to you." But anti-Castro activists hope it's the beginning of the end.

MARTIN: Ninoska Perez of Miami's Cuban Liberty Council said of the news, quote, "the real celebration will be when he can no longer write about it."

STEWART: That's the BPP's big story. Now let's get some more of today's headlines.

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