Dissidents in Cuba
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Fidel Castro hints at retirement

Fidel Castro hints at retirement
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 temporarily handed over power to his brother Raul and has
not been seen in public since.

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

Reacting to the statement, the White House said it believed democracy
would "soon" come to Cuba.

"It's an interesting letter. It's hard to make out what he is saying or
what he means," said spokeswoman Dana Perino, quoted by the AFP news agency.

"So we're just continuing to work for democracy on the island and we
believe that day will come soon."

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

"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," it said.

Parliamentary seat

The BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says there was no indication about how
or when the Cuban leader might step down.

FIDEL CASTRO
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 him, 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 if he is to remain president of the Council
of State, and so head of Cuba's government.

Nationwide elections will be held on 20 January.

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

Reactions

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.

KEY POLITICAL FIGURES
Felipe Perez Roque, 42 : Foreign Minister since 1999, Fidel Castro's
protege and former chief of staff
Carlos Lage, 56: Vice President, key economic adviser from early 1990s
Ricardo Alarcon, 70: President of National Assembly. At 18, joined Fidel
Castro's revolution, organised youth brigades

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.

"He has left a solid foundation for us to continue. Even if someone else
takes the seat of power, nothing will change," a Havana resident told
Reuters news agency.

In Miami, home to many Cuban exiles, there was scepticism about the
statement's actual meaning.

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 told the BBC.

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.

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.
Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/americas/7149170.stm

Published: 2007/12/18 16:44:18 GMT

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