(by Benny Avni, Feb. 20, 2008, NYSun.com) – Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s resignation from his post as the world’s longest-reigning head of government is raising both fears that it is a ploy to preserve and extend his legacy of communist oppression and hopes that, as President Bush said, the move will signal the “beginning of the democratic transition.”
The news, first published overnight on the Web site of the Cuban ruling party’s organ, Granma, was immediately carried by much of the world press, although many veteran Cuba watchers described it as a well-choreographed maneuver designed to keep Mr. Castro’s brand of communist rule intact.
Mr. Castro’s letter to Granma, later relayed on radio broadcasts to the island’s residents, said that at the age of 81, with his health failing, “I neither will aspire to, nor will I accept” the presidential and commander in chief posts, which he had held since the 1959 revolution. But he would maintain the important title of the Communist Party’s first secretary and, as his letter noted, would continue “to fight as a soldier for my ideas.”
In an apparent final rumination under the heading “Reflections of the Commander in Chief” late last week, Mr. Castro published an essay titled “The Republican Candidate,” in which he wrote that “The worst statement” made by Senator McCain in his recent memoir “was that Cuban interrogators had been regularly torturing American prisoners” in Vietnam. Through 10 pages, Mr. Castro typically reminisced about his decades-long relations with America, but failed to deliver any fact refuting Mr. McCain’s Vietnam account.
Yesterday’s resignation was “nearly half a century overdue,” Mr. McCain said in a statement on his Web site, adding a caution that freedom for Cubans is not immediately at hand, as the “Castro brothers clearly intend to maintain their grip on power.”
Most of Cuba’s leadership duties have already been transferred to the 76-year-old Raul Castro, who had been at his brother’s side since 1953 when they began their quest for power in Cuba. The younger Mr. Castro’s main power base had been his decades-long control over the military and the notorious police services. He had assumed responsibilities for day-to-day government operations in August 2006, when Fidel Castro suffered what was described as an intestinal ailment, and the assumption is that he will maintain power along with his brother.
“I don’t think there will be a real change in Cuba until Fidel Castro dies,” said a New York University professor of Latin American studies, Jorge Castaneda, who as Mexico’s foreign minister in President Fox’s administration publicly clashed with Mr. Castro over Cuba’s human rights record. “The last year and a half has been the same. Supposing Raul wanted to Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and I doubt that very much Ã¢â‚¬â€œ he hasn’t been able to make any changes” since he assumed the day-to-day control over the government.
Some Washington politicians used yesterday’s announcement to call for policy change, but the deputy secretary of State, John Negroponte, said the embargo will not end “anytime soon,” and none of the leading presidential candidates advocated an immediate change to American trade and travel sanctions on Havana.
“There will be an interesting debate that will arise eventually,” Mr. Bush said in Kigali, Rwanda, yesterday. “There will be some who say, let’s promote stability. Of course, in the meantime, political prisoners will rot in prison, and the human condition will remain pathetic in many cases.”
Many poured into the streets yesterday in Miami, where a large community of Cuban exiles has long urged Washington to maintain pressure over Cuba’s regime. But Florida’s Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs committee, said, “It matters nothing at all whether Fidel, Raul or any other thug is named head of anything in Cuba.” If anything, she added, yesterday’s announcement should lead to an indictment of Fidel Castro for his role in the 1996 killing of three “Brothers to the Rescue” anti-regime activists.
It is “at best a small step in an ongoing evolution” but Cuba’s “fundamental structure is the same,” said Freedom House’s deputy director of programs, Daniel Calingaert. Freedom House has rated Cuba as “worst of the worst” on its scale of oppressive regimes, Mr. Calingaert said, adding that yesterday’s announcement should not change American policy toward Cuba.
At least one influential Republican congressman did call for an end to the embargo. Any change on the island “largely depends on a new approach to Cuba by the U.S. Government,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, a Republican of Arizona. “The U.S. embargo gave Fidel a tremendous advantage in terms of lengthening his tenure. Let’s not give his successor the same advantage by keeping the embargo in place.”
Mr. Castro’s resignation “should mark the end of a dark era in Cuba’s history,” Senator Obama said in a statement, adding however that it is “sadly insufficient in bringing freedom to Cuba.” Only once Cuba begins opening to “meaningful democratic change,” he said, America “must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades.”
Addressing “the new leadership” in Havana, Senator Clinton said that now “Cuba will face a stark choice.”
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
NOTE: Fidel Castro is a cruel dictator and an enemy of America. Florida Senator Mel Martinez, who fled Cuba at age 15 said: “We must remember that Fidel Castro has resigned from a position he was never elected to in the first place.”
1. What fears and hopes have been raised by Fidel Castro’s resignation?
2. What do many veteran Cuba watchers believe is Castro’s motive for his resignation?
3. Castro is resigning as president and commander in chief. Which additional position will he retain?
4. a) Castro says he is retiring at age 81 because of poor health and turning over power to his brother Raul. How old is Raul?
b) What areas of the Cuban government has Raul controlled already for many years?
5. What needs to happen for Cuba’s communist government to change, according to NYU professor Jorge Castaneda?
6. a) How did the Bush administration react to the news of Castro’s resignation?
b) How did the presidential candidates respond to the news?
7. What policy do Cuban exiles want the U.S. to continue?
For background information on Cuba, go to the CIA World FactBook website here.
The purpose of this article was not to report on Castro’s treatment of his people. To learn more about his horribly repressive regime, click here.
Read a post on how CNN has instructed its anchors to report on Castro’s resignation here.
Hundreds, if not thousands of political prisoners, are jailed in Cuba because of their passion for human rights and freedom, and their unwillingness to surrender to tyranny. Here are 10 of them whose names you must know.
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