Fidel Castro is no longer Cuba's leader. Last night, in a letter to the state-run newspaper Granma, the 81-year-old resigned as president of the Cuban state council as well as the nation's commander in chief, five days before his current mandate expired. The resignation completes Castro's stepping down from power, which began on July 31, 2006, when he ceded responsibilities to his brother Raúl due to surgery.
"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," wrote Castro in his letter. "There were those overseas who, aware of my critical health condition, thought that my provisional resignation, on July 31, 2006, to the position of President of the State Council, which I left to First Vice-President Raúl Castro Ruz, was final. But Raúl, who is also minister of the Armed Forces on account of his own personal merits, and the other comrades of the Party and State leadership were unwilling to consider me out of public life despite my unstable health condition."
Fidel Castro's forces overthrew the government of Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959, beginning a nearly 50-year-reign over the island. Cuban goods have been embargoed from U.S. soil for nearly the entire time, first under a partial embargo signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960, then under a nearly complete embargo by executive order of President John F. Kennedy in 1962. The Helms-Burton Act of 1996, also known as the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, strengthened the U.S. embargo against Cuba and allows Congress to override a presidential cancellation of the embargo. It also includes a provision that prohibits recognition of a transitional government in Cuba that includes Fidel or Raúl Castro.
"I view this as a period of transition, and it should be the beginning of the democratic transition for the people in Cuba," said President Bush in Rwanda today. "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 the United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty."
Yahoo News reported that Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, asked if the United States planned a policy change on Cuba given the news of Castro's departure, said, "I can't imagine that happening anytime soon."