Castro Resigns Presidency of Cuba, After 49 Years

Fidel Castro stands in front of a tank, en route from Sierra Maestra to Havana in early 1959

Fidel Castro stands in front of a tank, en route from Sierra Maestra to Havana in early 1959, after winning the revolutionary war. Lee Lockwood/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images hide caption

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Cuban President Fidel Castro takes part in a rally in July of 2006.

Cuban President Fidel Castro takes part in a rally in July of 2006 during the inauguration of an electricity generating plant. Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images

Cuban leader Fidel Castro says he will not seek re-election and has resigned as Cuba's president, after 49 years in power.

Castro announced in Cuba's state-run newspaper that he is stepping down. At 81, he has been ailing and has not appeared in public in the past year and a half.

When the Cuban parliament meets Sunday, Castro said, he will neither seek nor accept a new term as president.

Despite its historical importance, Castro's announcement did not come as a complete surprise. When Cuba's parliament convenes this weekend, it would have had either to re-elect Castro or choose a new president.

Cuba held elections last month for a new National Assembly; the new legislature meets for the first time on Sunday. Their first order of business is to elect an Council of State and a president. The president of the Council of State will serve as Cuba's president for the next five years.

Castro handed power to his younger brother, Raul, 18 months ago, on an interim basis.

Many see a chance now for Raul, 76, to implement reforms he has hinted at since taking over as acting president when Fidel Castro fell ill in July 2006.

Raul Castro has called for better relations with the United States, only to have his brother say that the time was not right for such a shift.

Many analysts think Raul Castro will try to open the Cuban economy and make other changes. But as long as Fidel Castro is alive, the Communist Party leader will still be a powerful force in Cuba.

The announcement came overnight in the online edition of the Communist Party newspaper Granma. For five decades, Castro led Cuba, transforming the island nation into a communist stronghold 90 miles from the United States.

"Once he became convinced of any of his projects, despite whatever evidence, despite whatever arguments against that project, he stood by his convictions and he would go on and on regardless of everything and everyone," said Domingo Amachastegui, who served under Castro in the Cuban Foreign Ministry.

Cuba's National Assembly is expected to nominate Castro's younger brother, Raul Castro, as president.

Still, Fidel Castro will remain as first secretary of the ruling Communist Party, and he told fellow Cubans in his message Tuesday, "My only wish is to fight as a soldier in the battle of ideas."

In his letter announcing his withdrawal from office, Castro wrote, "This is not my farewell. I shall continue to write under the heading 'Reflections by Comrade Fidel."

"Perhaps," he wrote, "my voice will be heard."

After hearing of the news, President Bush said that he sees opportunity in Castro's retirement.

The transition from Castro to a new government ought to lead to free and fair elections, the president said. Bush was speaking at a news conference during his trip to Africa.

"The question should be, what does this mean for the Cuban people?" Bush asked. "They're the ones who suffered most under Castro."

The president called for the international community to help Cuba move toward democracy.

From NPR reports and the Associated Press

Bush: 'A Period of Transition' for Cuba

President Bush says Fidel Castro's resignation as president of Cuba marks a "period of transition" for the island nation. Following is a transcript of Bush's response to a question about Castro's announcement, during Bush's visit to Kigali, Rwanda, on Tuesday.

Mr. President, can you tell us what it means for the United States that — for the U.S. policy — that Castro has said he's going to step down? And how is that going to change things for the U.S.?

Yes, thanks. I heard the reports, several ways — one, reporters yelling it at me, and then of course I was briefed. ... More important — you know, the question really should be, what does this mean for the people in Cuba? They're the ones who suffered under Fidel Castro. They're the ones who were put in prison because of their beliefs. They're the ones who have been denied their right to live in a free society. So, I view this as a period of transition; that — and it should be the beginning of the democratic transition for the people in Cuba.

There will be an interesting debate that will arise eventually. There will be some who say, let's promote stability. Of course, in the meantime, political prisoners will rot in prison, and the human condition will remain pathetic in many cases.

I believe that the change from Fidel Castro ought to begin a period of democratic transition. First step, of course, will be for people put in these prisons to be let out. I've met with many of the, or some of the families of prisoners. It just breaks your heart to realize that people have been thrown in prison because they dared speak out.

The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy. And 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 being true democracy.

And we're going to help — the United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty. And so those are my initial thoughts.

Source: The White House

Fidel Castro: From Rebel to El Presidente

Fidel Castro speaks shortly after taking power in 1959.

Fidel Castro speaks shortly after taking power in 1959. Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

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Fidel Castro and Ed Sullivan

In a 1959 interview with Ed Sullivan, Fidel Castro says Cuba will have no more dictators. SOFA Home Entertainment hide caption

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Cuban-held prisoners from the attempted invasion at the Bay of Pigs

A group of captured Cubans, part of a U.S.-backed force of Cuban exiles who attempted an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, are lined up by Castro's soldiers on the Playa de Giron, Cuba, in 1961. Three Lions/Getty Images hide caption

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President Kennedy delivers a televised address about the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.

President Kennedy delivers a televised address about the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Getty Images hide caption

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Fidel Castro makes a point at the United Nations.

Fidel Castro makes a point at the U.N. special session marking the organization's 50th anniversary in 1995. Bob Strong/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Bob Strong/AFP/Getty Images
Fidel Castro looks skyward.

Fidel Castro looks skyward as he delivers a speech in Bayamo July 26, 2006, during a ceremony marking the 53rd anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks by rebels led by Castro. Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images

Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959 and held it for nearly a half-century, becoming one of the world's longest-ruling leaders. After falling ill in July 2006, he cedes power to his brother Raul, then resigns as president in February 2008. Read a timeline of the communist dictator's life.

December 1903: The treaty leasing Guantanamo Bay to the United States for use as a military fueling station is signed in Havana.

1925: The Cuban Socialist Party is founded.

Aug. 13, 1926: Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz is born on his family's sugar plantation in Biran, Cuba.

1933: Gerado Machado's dictatorial regime is overthrown in a military coup led by Sgt. Fulgencio Batista.

1944: Batista retires and is succeeded by Ramon Gray San Martin.

1945: Castro attends the University of Havana Law School.

1950: Castro opens a private law practice in Havana.

1952: Castro's plans to run for the House of Representatives are disrupted as Batista returns to power after an eight-year retirement.

July 26, 1953: Castro organizes a rebellion, attacking Batista's largest military outpost, the Moncada Barracks near Santiago. The revolt is unsuccessful and Castro is arrested.

October 1953: After a three-month trial, Castro is sentenced to 15 years in prison for his part in the attacks on the Moncada Barracks.

May 1955: Castro is granted amnesty and released from prison. He goes into exile in Mexico.

1955: While in Mexico, Castro founds the 26th of July movement, named after the failed offensive on the Moncada Barracks that led to his imprisonment.

1956: Castro returns to Cuba. He creates a stronghold in the Sierra Masetra Mountains where his revolutionary movement grows in popularity.

1958: The United States withdraws its military assistance to the Batista regime.

Jan. 1, 1959: Batista flees Cuba as Castro's forces enter Havana. In the following week, a new government is formed and Castro arrives, assuming the post as commander in chief of the armed forces. Castro would also later fill the position of prime minister, vacated by Jose Miro Cardona.

May 1959: Castro's government begins expropriating U.S.-owned property.

June 1960: Castro nationalizes an estimated $850 million worth of U.S. property and businesses after President Eisenhower slashes the import quota for Cuban sugar.

The Bay of Pigs Invasion

April 14, 1961: Castro describes his revolution as socialist.

April 15, 1961: The U.S. military bombs Cuban airfields.

April 17, 1961: Hoping to incite a popular uprising against Castro's government, a force of about 1,400 Cuban exiles — who are trained, financed and commanded by the CIA l— land at Playa Giron in the Bay of Pigs. President Kennedy cancels official U.S. military support for the operation at the last minute.

April 21, 1961: Castro's forces successfully defend the shore, capturing the invading exiles.

Feb. 7, 1962: In continued response to Cuba's nationalization of American property, the United States imposes a trade embargo against Cuba.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

Oct. 14, 1962: A U-2 spy-plane mission discovers missile sites in Cuba.

Oct. 22, 1962: President Kennedy announces the presence of tactical missile sites in Cuba.

Oct. 27, 1962: An American U-2 spy plan is shot down over Cuba, killing the pilot.

Oct. 28, 1962: After tense negotiations with the United States, Khrushchev agrees to withdraw Soviet missiles from Cuba. In return, the United States agrees not to invade Cuba and to remove missiles from Turkey.

Dec. 1, 1965: The United States begins an airlift of residents seeking to leave Cuba.

Nov. 2, 1966: Almost 125,000 Cubans living in the United States apply for permanent residency after President Johnson grants amnesty to Cuban immigrants who arrived in the country after Jan. 1, 1959.

April 6, 1973: The Cuban airlift ends after bringing more than 260,000 Cuban immigrants to the United States in eight years.

Nov. 11, 1975: The Angolan independence group M.P.L.A. takes over the capital city of Luanda and declares Angola's independence from Portugal with heavy military assistance from Cuba.

Nov. 20, 1975: U.S. intelligence discloses more than eight failed attempts by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro between 1960 and 1965.

1976: Cuban Communist Party adopts a new constitution institutionalizing socialism. Castro assumes the presidency.

1980: More than 125,000 Cubans flood out of the port of Mariel and make their way to Florida. Over a five-month span, the Mariel boatlift also brings thousands of criminals and mental patients to U.S. shores.

1988: Cuba withdraws its military presence from Angola.

1991: Soviet advisers leave Cuba following the collapse of the USSR. Lacking Soviet economic aid, Cuba's economy falls into recession.

Sept. 9, 1994: Cuba and the United States agree to cap the number of Cuban refugees admitted into the United States at 20,000 per year.

January 1996: Brothers to the Rescue, an anti-Castro organization based in Miami, uses airplanes to drop fliers over Havana urging citizens to revolt against the government.

Feb. 24, 1996: U.S. trade embargo becomes permanent in response to Cuba shooting down two U.S. aircraft operated by Miami-based Cuban exiles.

January 1998: Pope John Paul II visits Cuba.

November 1999: Six-year-old Elian Gonzalez is found floating off the coast of South Florida after the boat carrying him, his mother and 12 others capsized. His mother drowned in the accident and Elian is put in the custody of family members in Miami. After a high-profile legal dispute, Elian is reunited with his father in Cuba in June 2000.

1999: Castro celebrates 40 years in power.

October 2000: U.S. House of Representatives approves limited sale of food and medicine to Cuba, revising the Cuban trade embargo.

April 2004: The United Nations Human Rights Commission censures Cuba over recent human rights abuses, including the detention of more than 75 political dissidents.

2005: Forbes magazine lists Castro among the world's richest people, estimating his net worth at $550 million. In 2006, Forbes increases his estimated worth to $900 million; Castro denies that he benefits from an empire of state-owned enterprises.

March 30, 2006: Spanish-language newspapers mistakenly report that Fidel Castro is dead.

July 31, 2006: A statement from the Cuban leader says Castro has undergone surgery for intestinal bleeding and that he is temporarily ceding power to his brother Raul.

March 28, 2007: Castro writes the first dozens of essays called "Reflections of the Commander in Chief" that give him a voice on international affairs while he remains off the public stage.

Dec. 18, 2007: Castro publishes an essay saying he doesn't intend to cling to power forever, and will not "obstruct the path of younger people." He repeats the theme 10 days later in letter to parliament.

Jan. 20, 2008: Castro is re-elected to parliament, leaving open the possibility he could remain as president.

Feb. 19, 2008: Castro resigns as president, saying "it would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer.

Aug. 7, 2010: Castro addresses the Cuban National Assembly for the first time in four years. In a brief speech and question-and-answer session, the retired leader referred to earlier predictions that the U.S. and Israel would launch a nuclear attack on Iran, and that the U.S. might also attack North Korea. He urged President Barack Obama to resist pressures toward more war.

Sources: NPR research, the Associated Press, PBS American Experience, BBC

Castro's Letter of Resignation

Full text of the "Message from the Commander in Chief," a letter from Fidel Castro, posted Tuesday on the Web site of Cuba's Communist Party newspaper Granma. This is a version of the official Cuban translation, edited for clarity.

—-

Dear compatriots:

Last Friday, Feb. 15, I promised you that in my next reflection I would deal with an issue of interest to many compatriots. So this reflection comes in the form of a message.

The time has come to nominate and elect the State Council, its president, its vice presidents and its secretary.

For many years I occupied the honorable position of president. On Feb. 15, 1976, the Socialist Constitution was approved with the free, direct and secret vote of over 95 percent of eligible voters. The first National Assembly was established on Dec. 2 that same year, and it elected the State Council and its presidency. Before that, I had been a prime minister for almost 18 years. I always had the necessary prerogatives to carry forward the revolutionary work with the support of the overwhelming majority of the people.

There were those overseas who, aware of my critical health condition, thought that my provisional resignation, on July 31, 2006, from the position of President of the State Council, which I left to First Vice President Raul Castro Ruz, was permanent. Raul, who is also minister of the Armed Forces because of his personal merits, and the other comrades of the Party and State leadership were unwilling to consider me out of public life despite my precarious health.

It was an uncomfortable situation for me vis-a-vis an adversary which had done everything possible to get rid of me (referring to the United States), and I felt reluctant to comply.

Later, I was able to recover the full command of my mind and could do much reading and meditation, required by my retreat. I had enough physical strength to write for many hours, which I shared with rehabilitation and recovery programs. Basic common sense indicated to me that such activity was within my reach. On the other hand, when referring to my health I was extremely careful to avoid raising expectations since I felt that an adverse ending would bring traumatic news to our people in the midst of the battle. Thus, my first duty was to prepare our people both politically and psychologically for my absence after so many years of struggle. I kept saying that my recovery "was not without risks."

My wishes have always been to discharge my duties to my last breath. That's what I can offer.

To my dearest compatriots, who have recently honored me so much by electing me a member of the Parliament where so many agreements should be adopted of utmost importance to the destiny of our Revolution, I am saying that I will neither aspire to nor accept - I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor accept - the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief.

In short letters addressed to Randy Alonso, Director of the Round Table program on National Television - letters which at my request were made public - I discreetly introduced elements of this message I am writing today, when not even the addressee of such letters was aware of my intention. I trusted Randy because I knew him well from his days as a journalism student. In those days I met almost on a nearly weekly basis with the main representatives of the university students from the provinces at the library of the large house in Kohly where they lived. Today, the entire country is an immense university.

Here are selected paragraphs from the letter sent to Randy on Dec. 17, 2007:

"I strongly believe that the answers to the current problems facing Cuban society, which has on average a 12th grade education, almost 1 million university graduates, and real opportunities for its citizens to study without facing discrimination, require more variables for each concrete problem than those contained in a chess game. We cannot ignore a single detail; this is not an easy path to take, if the intelligence of a human being in a revolutionary society is to prevail over instinct.

"My elemental duty is not to cling to positions, much less to stand in the way of younger persons, but rather to contribute experience and ideas whose modest value comes from the exceptional era in which I lived.

"Like (Brazilian architect Oscar) Niemeyer (who turned 100 on Dec. 15), I believe that one has to be consistent right up to the end."

Letter from Jan. 8, 2008:

"... I am a firm supporter of a unified vote (a principle that preserves ignored merits), which allowed us to avoid the tendency to copy what came to us from countries of the former socialist bloc, including the portrait of the one candidate, as singular as his solidarity toward Cuba. I deeply respect that first attempt at building socialism, thanks to which we were able to continue along the path we had chosen."

I reiterated in that letter that "... I never forget that all the world's glory fits in a kernel of corn." Therefore, it would be a betrayal of my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer. This I say devoid of all drama.

Fortunately, our process can still count on cadres from the old guard and others who were very young in the early days of the Revolution. Some were very young, almost children, when they joined the fight on the mountains and later they filled the country with glory with their heroism and their internationalist missions. They have the authority and the experience to guarantee the replacement. There is also the intermediate generation which learned with us the basics of the complex and almost unattainable art of organizing and leading a revolution.

The path will always be difficult and require everyone's intelligent effort. I distrust the seemingly easy path of apologetics or its antithesis of self-flagellation. We should always be prepared for the worst possibilities. We cannot forget the principle of being as prudent in success as steady in adversity. The adversary to be defeated is extremely strong, but we have been able to keep it at bay for half a century.

This is not my farewell to you. My only wish is to fight as a soldier in the battle of ideas. I shall continue to write under the title, "Reflections of Comrade Fidel." It will be another weapon you can count on. Perhaps my voice will be heard. I shall be careful.

Thank you.

Fidel Castro Ruz

Feb. 18, 2008

5:30 p.m.

Translation and editing by the Associated Press

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