For communist icon Castro, time to take off the boots

For communist icon Castro, time to take off the boots
AFP
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First Published: Tue, Feb 19 2008. 02 25 PM IST
Updated: Tue, Feb 19 2008. 02 25 PM IST
Havana: After almost a half century of defying the United States and making the world think he would die with his boots on, Cuba’s iconic revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Tuesday gave up the presidency in ailing health.
In a message published by the online version of the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma, the 81-year-old Castro said he would not seek the presidency again when it is decided later this month.
“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 undergoing intestinal surgery and handing power temporarily to his brother Raul Castro.
“It would betray my conscience to take up a responsibility that requires mobility and total devotion, that I am not in physical condition to offer,” he said.
The Cuban Revolution “also has the middle-aged generation that learned together with us the elements of the complex almost unknowable art of organizing and directing a Revolution,” Castro said, hinting at leaders to come.
Out of public sight since his surgery, seen only in videos and photos, Castro has often published columns in the Cuban media, titled “Reflections of a commander in chief.”
“I am not saying farewell. I want only to fight as a soldier of ideas. I will continue writing under the title ‘Reflections of Comrade Fidel.´ I will be one more weapon in the arsenal that you can count on. Perhaps my voice will be heard. I will be careful,” he wrote.
Castro’s message came just five days before a historic session in the National Assembly in which he was up for re-election for another five-year mandate.
Raul Castro said a month ago that the National Assembly would elect Cuba’s next president on 24 February, 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 re-elected in February.
Some speculate Raul Castro may become president permanently 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 had expected he would not be able to resume the full, wide-ranging powers he used to wield.
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.
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First Published: Tue, Feb 19 2008. 02 25 PM IST