Ailing Castro gives up the Cuban presidency
HAVANA (AFP) — Ailing revolutionary icon Fidel Castro permanently gave up the Cuban presidency on Tuesday, ending five decades of ironclad rule of the island marked by his one-man defiance of the United States.
Eighteen months after he was stricken with illness, the 81-year-old Castro said in a message published by the official media that he would not accept the presidency again.
"I neither will aspire to nor will I accept -- I repeat -- I neither will aspire to nor will I accept, the position of president of the council of state and commander in chief," Castro wrote almost 19 months after a severe illness caused him to hand power temporarily to his brother Raul.
Raul Castro said a month ago that the National Assembly would elect Cuba's next president on February 24, amid speculation that his brother -- for the first time in five decades -- might not be its choice.
Cuba's National Assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcon had said that while his recovery is ongoing, it was up to Fidel Castro to decide whether he will stay on as president, if reelected in February.
Some speculate Raul Castro might become president on a permanent basis or that another top regime official might move up the ladder, technically ending Fidel Castro's official dominance of the regime. Few, however, doubt Fidel would remain influential in the latter case.
While Fidel Castro appears to be in better health than a year ago, many Cuba-watchers believe he would not be able to resume the full, wide-ranging powers he used to wield.
Some analysts believed he might continue to remain head of state on paper, essentially acting as a kind of behind-the-scenes guardian of the 1959 revolution while leaving other top communist officials to deal with the day-to-day work.
Guerrilla revolutionary and communist idol, Fidel Castro held out against history and turned tiny Cuba into a thorn in the paw of the mighty capitalist United States.
The Cuban president, who overthrew Fulgencio Batista and took power in 1959, had said he would never retire from politics, and though illness forced him into seclusion in the final months of his presidency.
Famed for his rumpled olive fatigues, straggly beard and the cigars he reluctantly gave up for his health, Castro kept a tight clamp on dissent at home while defining himself abroad with his defiance of Washington.
A great survivor and a firebrand, if windy orator, Castro dodged all his enemies could throw at him in nearly half a century in power, including assassination plots, a US-backed invasion bid, and a punishing US trade embargo.