Fidel Castro hints at retirement

Campaign News | Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Cuba's ailing communist leader, Fidel Castro, has raised the possibility that he may never return to the presidency.

In a letter read out on state TV, Mr Castro, Cuba's leader since 1959, said he had a duty not to hold on to power or obstruct the rise of younger people.

Last year, he handed temporarily handed over power to his brother Raul and has not been seen in public since.

The statement comes before elections next year to choose a national assembly which then selects the president.

"My basic duty is not to cling to office, and even less to obstruct the path of younger people, but to pass on the experiences and ideas whose modest worth stems from the exceptional era in which I have lived," Mr Castro's letter said.

The message was delivered during Cuba's main nightly current affairs programme, Mesa Redonda.

Parliamentary seat

The BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says it was not a formal letter of resignation, and there is no indication about how or when the Cuban leader might step down.


Born in 1926 to a wealthy, landowning family

Took up arms in 1953, six years before coming to power

Brother Raul was deputy and Che Guevara third in command

Has outlasted nine American presidents

Target of many CIA assassination plots

Daughter is a dissident exile in Miami

But the mention of younger leaders suggests that his younger brother Raul, who is 76, may not automatically succeed the president, our correspondent says.

Fidel Castro has ruled Cuba since leading the 1959 revolution.

Earlier this month he was nominated as a candidate for a seat in Cuba's National Assembly - a move seen as an indication that he might still hope for a return to power.

Mr Castro must be re-elected to the assembly if he is to remain president of the Council of State, and so head of Cuba's one-party government.

Nationwide elections will be held on 20 January.

The newly elected assembly will then choose the Council of State, which President Fidel Castro has headed since the early 1960s.


Mr Castro's illness last year sparked much speculation about the end of one-party rule in Cuba.

But many observers say that there has been a relatively smooth transfer of power.

BBC Americas editor Emilio San Pedro says the letter appears to be a calculated attempt to prepare Cuba's 11 million people for a Cuba without the emblematic revolutionary leader in charge.

Independent Cuban journalist Miriam Leiva, whose husband is a former political prisoner, said she believed the announcement might be a turning point for Cuba.

"The situation in Cuba is so tense, economically and socially. This gives the hope that our society can start moving again," she said.

In Miami, home to many Cuban exiles, there was a mixed reaction to the letter.

"I think that that is good thing for Cuba and the changes that are happening," Moises Dobanganes, originally from the Cuban city of Camaguey, told the BBC.

But others were more sceptical. Gina Forcellado said she thought the announcement was part of a cynical move by Fidel Castro.

"He knows that he's not going to be judged very well by history, so he's trying to correct it," she said.


Mr Castro stepped aside after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006. His health is a state secret.

Since earlier this year, he has made his presence felt through regular newspaper editorials and Cuban officials say he keeps up with official business.

In Monday's message, Mr Castro paid tribute to the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, a lifelong communist who turned 100 on Saturday.

"I think like Niemeyer that you have to be of consequence up to the end," he wrote.

The comments came in the final paragraph of a letter dealing with this month's climate change conference in Bali.

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