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Fidel Castro steps down, but not out

Fidel Castro steps down, but not out

Fidel Castro, a burr in the backside to U.S. presidents since Dwight Eisenhower, announced Tuesday morning that he has stepped down as president and military leader of Cuba.

   Castro, 81, has paved the way for his brother Raul, 76, to become president of the communist Caribbean country. The change could be announced as early as Sunday when the Cuban National Assembly meets. Raul Castro has served as acting president of the country since July 2006.

   In a letter to the Cuban people on the Granma Web site, Castro said: “It would betray my conscience to occupy a responsibility that requires mobility and the total commitment that I am not in the physical condition to offer.”

   According to various news reports, President Bush said from his visit to Africa this week that the United States stood ready to assist with regime change and to promote democracy in Cuba.

   Castro seized control of Cuba in 1959 after deposing dictator Fulgencio Batsista. He quickly became a staunch ally of the Soviet Union.

   Cuba has weathered droughts and numerous commodity rationings since the U.S. embargo was first imposed in 1962. In 2001, the United States loosened some trade activity with Cuba, and U.S. exports to the country rose from about $6 million in 2000 to $350 million in 2006. In 2004, the Bush administration tightened the embargo on Cuba once again.

   A Reuters news report described the reaction to Castro’s resignation in Miami’s Cuban-exile community as “quiet,” so far. The Cuban-American National Foundation, an anti-Castro organization, said in a statement on its Web site: '(Tuesday's) announcement of the resignation of Fidel Castro closes a dark chapter in Cuban history ' This brings about a historic opportunity for those within the upper echelons of the Cuban government, including apparent successor Raul Castro, to take significant steps toward democratic change, restoring to the Cuban people their inalienable right to self-determination.”

   But many exiles believe Fidel Castro will continue to operate the Cuban government from the wings.

   “I’m not saying goodbye to you,” Castro said in his resignation letter to the Cuban people. “I only wish to fight as a soldier of ideas.”

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