Fidel Castro Steps Down

Fidel Castro, one of the longest serving and most controversial heads of state, has officially stepped down yesterday morning. The leftist leader’s decision was first reported by the online version of the Cuban state-run newspaper Granma. This revelation comes a month after the President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, commented that Castro seemed both lucid and healthy enough to retake the presidency after the two leaders met last month. The NYTIMES has reported that the news was revealed in the form of a letter to the nation under Castro’s name. Castro’s letter was also read yesterday morning on radio and TV stations through out Cuba as people headed to their jobs. In his letter Castro stated that his poor health made it extremely difficult for him to continue with the presidency and that he thus would not seek it. The Cuban leader has rarely been seen since he had a serious intestinal operation two years ago. He had only been seen in pictures and videos distributed by the state-run media when he was visited by foreign guests. Castro clearly stated in the letter:“ I will not aspire to neither will I accept — I repeat I will not aspire to neither will I accept — the position of president of the Council of State and commander in chief.”

 CNN reported that the atmosphere in Cuba was very "quiet" after Castro’s decision to step down was revealed. They also stated that the streets “of Cuba’s capital, Havana, reflected the normal coming and goings of its residents.” As well as that there were even a lot of people who surprisingly had not heard of the news when asked about it. This despite the fact that Granma had dedicated the entire front page of its print edition to it. It  seems that this is mainly because the state-run media in Cuba has not made a particularly big deal about it. An example of this was given by the NYTIMES when they reported that the state-run media in Cuba “read the announcement as part of the morning news, then returned to the usual mix of music and children’s broadcasting.”

Castro’s younger brother and Cuban Defense Minister, Raul Castro, is widely believed to be his successor. Raul has already functioned as acting president ever since Fidel’s health deteriorated. It is thought though that Fidel Castro will continue to have a lot of influence in Cuban politics no matter who in his entourage takes charge. Particularly after he stated in his letter to the Cuban people that his “only wish is to fight as a soldier in the battle of ideas” with his writings and that he would continue to write under the banner "Reflections of Comrade Fidel." Castro would go on to say that his writings would also be a "weapon" that the Cuban people could "count on."

 

 The electoral process in the Cuba states that a newly chosen Parliament will have the task of choosing a 31 member council of state. That parliament in turn will choose the next president of the council and commander in chief. Cuban officials claim that their electoral process is very democratic. However, it is no secret that the Cuban electoral system has many critics and is believed by many to be anything but democratic. With Castro having complete control on the island and at times even ruling with an iron fist. For example the NYTIMES reports that many experts on Cuban politics think “the decision on a successor remains in the hands of Fidel Castro, his brother and his inner circle, many of whom hold positions in the cabinet.” But Raul Castro "is not the only possible successor" says an article in the Miami Herald. Although he seems to be the most likely there is a list of possible succesors. The list includes: 56 year old Cuban Vice-President Carlos Lage, 70 year old former UN Ambassador to Cuba Ricardo Alarcon, 42 year old Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, 75 year old communication minister Ramiro Valdes and 64 year old Esteban Lazo a member of both the council of ministers and the  Cuban Communist Party’s political buro.

 Dissidents in Cuba like Oswaldo Paya have stated that with Fidel Castro’s retirement the Cuban people “will have more hope.” There has also been reports that Miami, Florida the city that could be considered the anti-thesis of Castro’s Havana, was also very calm after the news reached them. People like, Janisset Rivero, the executive director of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, a group that works with the dissidents in Cuba does not seem to think that any real change will occur though. She told CNN she thought preparations had been taking place for quite a while and that “the crowning of Raúl Castro," was very assured. Rivero would go on to tell CNN this morning that Castro’s decision to retire will not “mean any change to the system.” That she felt that “one big dictator” was simply “replacing the other.” 

CNN also reported that most who had heard the news of his retirement where cautious  of offering their comments on Castro’s decision. However two who did said that they thought it was good idea. One said that it was good idea because Castro needed to take care of himself and the other went even further and stated that it was good decision from a man “who made good decisions.” It is believed that few in Cuba expect much change from Castro’s decision. Even though most think that Raul will be his successor and that he will continue with the model of his older brother. Yet there has been some speculation that Raul will perhaps make way to a kind of Chinese model. This, however, remains to be seen.This analysis is not shared by all as the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that Tom Casey, the spokesman for the U.S State Department,  has qualified Raul as "pseudo Fidel."

 One can only imagine that Cubans like any other peoples can only hope for a better future with a change in rule. With Castro stepping down newspapers and other news outlets around the world have begun to ponder how Castro the revolutionary and polarizing political figure will be remembered. The NYTIMES has for example stated that his “his record has been a mix of great social achievements and dismal economic performance that has mired most Cubans in poverty.” His social achievements being universal healthcare, free education and making a lot of progress in rooting out racism in Cuba. However, his dictatorial way of governing for almost 50 years and the economic difficulties faced by Cuba are sure  to stain his rule and place in history. Even though the U.S embargo on Cuba will also have part of the blame for the poor state of Cuba’s economy and the hardships that it has faced and continues to.

With Castro’s retirement some world leaders have already expressed their opinions on the matter. For example U.S president, George W. Bush, as he told reporters on his trip to Rwanda that he thought “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.” Bush would also state that the United States  “will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty." Another prominent member of the Bush administration, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, stated that the U.S had no current plans to lift the embargo or the blockade as Cubans refer to it.

The world is waiting to see if any real change will happen in Cuba after this historical announcement.  

 

 (The letter writen by Fidel Castro to Granma can be seen in both Spanish and English at their website)