Red News Readers,
Cuba never was a socialist paradise but you have got to admire a man who lived to retire when the Americans for the last 50 years have spent a good part of that time trying to kill him, and overthrow the Cuban State. When you look at Cuba you can see old cars in the streets and old buildings but the children go to school and the health system functions for all. You don't see the chaos and decay of other Carribean, Latin American and South American countries that have been allies of the United States. Even if there were what George Bush calls free and fair elections, I wonder how Cubans would vote?
Castro declares his reign at an end
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After half a century in power Fidel Castro steps down as Cuba's president.
February 20, 2008,smh
THE ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro has announced he will not return to lead the country, retiring as head of state almost 50 years after he seized power in an armed revolution.
"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," he wrote in a message published yesterday in the online version of the newspaper Granma.
Dr Castro, 81, is the world's longest-serving head of government and has been the leader of the Americas' only communist country since he seized power in a 1959 revolution. The only heads of state to have served longer are the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej (since 1946) and the Queen, Elizabeth II, (since 1952).
El Comandante (the Chief), as Dr Castro is known, outlasted nine US presidents, and survived the fall of the Soviet Union - for long his main benefactor - the end of communism in Eastern Europe, as well as numerous attempts to assassinate or oust him.
At a summit of South American leaders in Argentina in 2006, he said: "I'm really happy to reach 80. I never expected it, not least having a neighbour - the greatest power in the world - trying to kill me every day."
Anti-globalisation activists saw the leftist firebrand as a hero, along with revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, his Argentine-born comrade-in-arms.
But in his last interview, in December, he said his duty was "not to cling to office", indicating for the first time that he might step down before death. Dr Castro temporarily handed power to his brother, Raul, in July 2006 after undergoing stomach surgery. Since then his public appearances have been rare.
A new book, Without Fidel by the CBS correspondent Ann Louise Bardach, concludes that Raul Castro, who is 76 and has been in charge since July, may prove to be the leader who brings Cuba out of decades of isolation.
The book says: "A few weeks after Fidel Castro's surgery, his son, Antonio Castro, an orthopaedic surgeon and the doctor for Cuba's national baseball team, was more forthcoming with some of his foreign counterparts at an international baseball event.
"Asked solicitously about his father's health, the amiable Antonio shook his head sadly, and said: 'What my old man has is insurmountable."'
Since Raul took the reins of power, some dissidents have been released from prison and there have been discreet overtures towards the US.
Some Western diplomats believe the younger Castro may follow a similar path to Vietnam, where markets have been gradually opened by communist rulers, although there is scepticism about this in the US.
Dr Castro was until yesterday the leader of one of the world's last communist states.
He projected the persona of a romantic, bearded revolutionary dressed in crumpled military fatigues. Yet, for all the romanticism associated with his regime, and notwithstanding agrarian reforms and achievements with universal education and medical services, his one-party communist state tolerated no dissent and fell into near economic ruin.
Under his rule jails have reportedly held up to 50,000 political prisoners, and about 1.7 million Cubans fled into exile.
Dr Castro's fierce nationalism and determination to keep Cuba independent of US economic and political control led to the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. The world was dragged to the brink of nuclear war when the Soviet Union moved to install tactical nuclear missiles in Cuba, resulting in a US blockade.
The world held its breath before the US president, John Kennedy, and the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, reached a compromise: the Soviet Union abandoned plans to base nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba and the US agreed not to invade Cuba.
The loss of billions of dollars in subsidies from Moscow after the Soviet collapse plunged Cuba into a crisis in the early 1990s.
Widespread hardship sowed discontent that triggered a renewed exodus of tens of thousands to Florida, 145 kilometres away. The crisis forced Dr Castro to open Cuba to foreign investment and tourism, and legalise the currency of his enemy, the US dollar.
Telegraph, London, and agencies