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December 18, 2007
Fidel Hints at 'Retirement'
Not seen in public in 16 months, Fidel Castro still weilds considerable power through his brother Raul who replaced him as president in March of 2006.
Now Castro is saying that he wants to "retire," acting as kind of an "elder statesman" who will still have considerable influence over the affairs of state:
"My elemental duty is not to hold on to positions and less to obstruct the path of younger people," the 80-year-old Castro said in a letter read on Cuban state television. Castro, who took power in a 1959 revolution, handed over temporarily to his brother Raul in July 2006 after undergoing stomach surgery for an undisclosed illness. The biggest issue is still how the succession to his rule will play out. There is much uncertainty about just how much power Raul has in Cuba. There is also the unknown of how the military will react when Castro dies. But if Cuba is to have a peaceful transition from Castro's rule, it almost certainly will not include Raul Castro and must be backed by the military. Even some of the communist deputies have expressed doubts about Raul which makes his continued rule after the transition a big question mark.
Cuba's National Assembly could formalize Castro's retirement as head of state when it approves the members of the executive Council of State in March. Castro said his duty is "to contribute experience and ideas whose modest value comes from the exceptional times that I have lived through."
His comments at the end of the letter read out on a daily current affairs program on television suggested Castro would not resume office but instead continue in the role of elder statesman advising the country's communist government on key issues.
Cuban ex-patriots are hoping that some kind of mechanism can be agreed upon to hold free elections, allowing the opposition a chance to run candidates. But given the iron fisted control of Castro and Raul - who is the minister for the armed forces and a general in his own right - it doesn't seem likely that Cuba will enjoy anything but the same dreary kind of socialism that has afflicted the island since 1959.