Saturday, December 29, 2007

Castro again hints at retirement

Castro again hints at retirement

Cuba's ailing President, Fidel Castro, has for the second time this
month alluded publicly to the possibility of retiring from office.

In a letter read out to Cuba's National Assembly, he said in the past he
had been a person who "clung" to power, but that life had changed his

Mr Castro also urged people to support his brother, acting leader Raul

Last week, the 81-year-old communist leader wrote that he had a duty not
to obstruct the rise of younger people.

I am not a person who clings to power - I could add that I was once,
for the excesses of youth and lack of conscience
Fidel Castro

"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," last
Tuesday's message said.

Mr Castro has ruled Cuba since leading a communist revolution in 1959.

He handed temporary power to his 76-year-old brother in July 2006 after
undergoing emergency intestinal surgery, and has not been seen in public

'Continue marching'

Cuba's acting leader, Raul Castro, sat next to the empty chair of his
ailing brother at the final session of the National Assembly before next
year's parliamentary election.

In a letter read out before the day's business got underway, Fidel
Castro said that in the past he had been a "utopian socialist".

It was a phase, he said, when he believed he knew what we had to do and
wanted the power to do it.

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

"What the foreign press in Cuba have most reported in recent days has
been the phrase where I expressed... that I am not a person who clings
to power. I could add that I was once, for the excesses of youth and
lack of conscience," he said.

"What changed me? Life itself, through the deepening of the thoughts of
[Cuban independence leader Jose] Marti and the classics of Socialism,"
he said.

Mr Castro also urged people to support his brother, saying he had read
in advance a speech Raul made earlier this week in which he said Cuba
needed to become more democratic, at least by allowing more open debate
about economic and social issues.

"It is necessary to continue marching without stopping for even a
minute. I will raise my hand next to yours to support him," he added in
the letter dated 27 December.

The BBC's Michael Voss in Havana says that although the remarks were the
first time that Mr Castro has publicly backed his brother's attempts at
reforms, there is no talk of any political changes in the one-party state.

Mr Castro's two messages come before elections on 20 January to elect
the National Assembly, which then selects the Council of State, which he
has headed since 1976.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/12/28 23:14:39 GMT

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