Monday, February 25, 2008


Posted on Sun, Feb. 24, 2008

You can't call Fidel Castro commander in chief or president anymore, but
in the midst of his retirement, he has held on to another of Cuba's most
powerful job titles: first secretary of the Communist Party.

Castro announced Tuesday that he would not accept a nomination to lead
Cuba for a 50th year. In the letter published in Tuesday's newspapers,
Castro said he would ''neither aspire to or accept'' the positions of
President of the State Council and Commander in Chief.

He did not mention his leadership of the Communist Party, a body that
Cuba's constitution calls ``the top leading force of society and the

The omission underscored what many experts have said for 19 months:
Castro may have stepped aside, but he may be unwilling to relinquish all
influence. Experts say clinging to the party post will mean the ailing
former rebel will probably still have a staff and some say in what
happens in Cuba.

Whether it also means he can interfere in attempts at economic reform
remains to be seen.

''What's evident is that Fidel Castro is going to continue influencing
the circles of power in Cuba,'' Alcibíades Hidalgo, a former Cuban
ambassador to the United Nations, told El Nuevo Herald.

Castro first stepped aside July 2006, when his chief of staff read a
letter on TV that said Castro had been struck by an intestinal illness.
Castro ''provisionally'' delegated the presidency and his jobs as head
of the armed forces and chief of the party to his brother, Defense
Minister Raúl Castro.

Cuba's National Assembly meets Sunday to select Castro's replacement as
president of the Council of State and other posts. But it is unclear now
whether Raúl Castro will continue as provisional first secretary of the
Communist Party -- or if Fidel will take that title back. Raúl is
already the party's No. 2.

Castro has written two news columns since Tuesday's retirement,
illustrating once more that although he is physically incapacitated, he
hopes to continue as a ''soldier in Cuba's battle of ideas.'' In a
column published Saturday, Castro said he plans to lay down his pen, at
least for the time being.

Miami Radio commentator Francisco Aruca said that as the architect of
the Cuban revolution who offered free healthcare and education -- which
Cubans hold dear -- people are not going to be ready to see him go entirely.

''Fidel Castro, if he's alive, will keep on writing,'' Aruca said.
``Fidel Castro was and still is the father of the Cuban revolution, the
equivalent of Lenin for Russia. It's logical that he's going to keep
doing it, and people very much respect him.''


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