According to Yahoo! News and Time's Lisa Abend in Madrid, President Fidel Castro sent a letter of resignation on Monday night, saying in part, "My desire was always to fulfill my responsibility until my last breath." Castro intimated that he had wanted to hang on to power for a full life-term. However, the central message of the letter published early Tuesday morning on the website of Granma, Cuba's official newspaper, was that poor health was forcing him to formally relinquish power. "To my close compatriots... I say that I will not aspire to nor accept - I repeat, I will not aspire to nor accept - the office of President of the Council of State or Commander in Chief," Castro wrote. His resignation, coming just days before Cuba's National Assembly is to vote for a new leader, brings an end to nearly fifty years of rule.
Many believe that the move points to Fidel's deteriorating health, and firmly positions his younger brother Raul to succeed him to the presidency. "If he had presented himself for re-election, there is no doubt he would have won," says Carlos Malamud, head Latin American researcher at the Royal Elcano Institute, a Madrid think-tank. "The fact that he didn't means, first, that his health is very bad, and second, that he needs to reinforce the legitimacy of his brother."
The BBC reports through CTK, the Czech National News Agency, that Czech Communist Party (KSCM) Deputy Chairman Jiri Dolejs said today, "If Castro made the decision by himself, he evidently did so to prevent changes that the Cuban regime will face as any other regime does, from being uncontrolled and threatening the political and economic stability of the country." Cuba will face changes because no country can avoid them, but these changes will come later, Dolejs added.
KSCM Deputy Chairwoman Zuzka Rujbrova-Bebarova said she did not expect anything to change in Cuba after Castro's departure from the political scene. Rujbrova has visited Cuba in the past, and was the only post-Communist Czech official to have been officially received by Castro. She said today she noticed that even then Castro was surrounded mainly by young people who are now certainly determined to continue with his policies. "No revolutionary changes can be expected in Cuba," Rujbrova said.
Meanwhile, the move was greeted with some skepticism by U. S. President George W. Bush, who said, "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."
Also expressing hope for change was Javier Solana, the European Union's high representative for foreign policy. Speaking in Brussels, his words were broadcast by Spanish National Radio in its regular 1100 GMT (6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time) news bulletin. "I think the decision is a decision that, if it goes well, could take Cuba into a process of transition, which I hope will be peaceful and rapid, and have positive consequences for the island," Solana said.
Jon Smith, in Havana reporting for the Birmingham [UK] Evening Mail, described Castro as: "The ferocious leader [who] ruled his country unchallenged for nearly half a century."
Smith reports that Castro was hated by the United States and was at the center of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the US and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war. The world held its breath for 12 tense days in October, 1962 after President John F Kennedy discovered that Kremlin leader Nikita Khruschev was placing nuclear missile installations on the island and challenged the Soviets about it.
The crisis--probably the most perilous time of the entire Cold War--abated only when Khruschev backed down and said the installations would be dismantled. When Castro and his Marxist revolutionary comrades seized power in 1959, all American-owned property was nationalized, leading to relentless hostility towards him from the United States.
Smith further recalls that the CIA tried numerous times over the years to assassinate Castro, including one plot that involved a bizarre exploding cigar designed to detonate when Castro puffed on it, and another with booby-trapped seashells planted in spots where he used to enjoy diving.
In Miami, Adrian Sainz of the Associated Press reports that Cuban exiles are also more skeptical about the move, while there is guarded optimism about the news.
Cuban exiles in Little Havana welcomed Tuesday's news that Cuban President Fidel Castro had officially resigned power, but most in the heart of the Cuban exile community weren't optimistic the move would bring major changes or democracy to the communist nation.
As news of the resignation spread, motorists honked vigorously at police patrol cars and television reporters. Shouts of "Free Cuba!" echoed in the streets, and small groups gathered to chat in local eateries. But there was no widespread celebration, just caution.
"I hope this is the beginning of the end of the system, but we have to wait," said 35-year-old chemist Omar Fernandez, who left Cuba for the U.S. six years ago.
Repeated rumors of Castro's death over the years helped prepare residents and officials for the day that all knew would eventually come. The community's reactions so far were calm, peaceful and not as boisterous as when thousands took to the streets after Castro temporarily handed power to his brother Raul in July 2006.
Most exiles view Castro as a ruthless dictator who forced them, their parents or grandparents from their homes after he seized power in a revolution in 1959. Police said they were "keeping a sharp eye" on Little Havana, but residents weren't gathering in large numbers to celebrate. Nothing indicated a need for increased patrols off the Florida coast or that a mass migration was imminent, said Coast Guard spokesman Lieutenant Commander Chris O'Neil.
Ulises Colina, a 65-year-old electrical technician, said he was not certain if the resignation would bring any change. "I think it was a foregone conclusion that his political career would be over soon," Colina stated. Colina theorized that any change in Cuba would have to come from within the military.
"Changes? Well, he's the leader of the gang but he has a bunch of auxiliary gang members who don't want to see change," Colina added.
Abend, Lisa."Will Castro's Exit Change Cuba?" Time/Yahoo! News. http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20080219/wl_time/willcastrosexitchangecuba
Sainz, Adrian. "Miami's Little Havana Awakes to News that Fidel Castro is Resigning."
Associated Press from Lexis/Nexis.
Smith, Jon. "Castro hands over the reins;
CUBA: Ageing leader steps down after nearly 50 years" Birmingham Evening Mail.
CTK News Agency, Prague. "Cuba to Face Changes as Castro Resigns, But Later--Czech Communists. BBC from Lexis/Nexis