CASTRO RELINQUISHES POWER BEFORE SURGERY
By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer July 31, 206
HAVANA - Fidel Castro, who took control of Cuba in 1959, rebuffed repeated U.S. attempts
to oust him and survived communism's demise almost everywhere else, temporarily relinquished his presidential powers to his
brother Raul on Monday night because of surgery.
Castro, less than two weeks
away from his 80th birthday, did not appear on the live television broadcast in which his secretary read a letter from the
Cuban leader. It was the first time in 47 years of absolute rule that Castro has given up power.
In the note read by secretary
Carlos Valenciaga, Castro said he underwent surgery after suffering gastrointestinal bleeding, apparently due to stress from
recent public appearances in Argentina and eastern Cuba.
It was not immediately clear when the surgery took place.
"The operation obligates
me to undertake several weeks of rest," the letter read. Extreme stress "had provoked in me a sharp intestinal crisis with
sustained bleeding that obligated me to undergo a complicated surgical procedure."
Castro, who has been affected
in the recent past with occasional health problems, said he was temporarily relinquishing the presidency to his younger brother
and successor Raul, the defense minister, but said the move was of "a provisional character." There was no immediate appearance
or statement by Raul Castro.
The calm delivery of the
announcement appeared to signal that there would be an orderly succession to Raul should Fidel become permanently incapacitated.
The announcement drew cheering
crowds in the streets in Miami. People waved Cuban flags on
Little Havana's Calle Ocho, shouting "Cuba, Cuba,
Cuba," hoping that the end is near for
the man most of them consider to be a ruthless dictator. Many of them fled the communist island or have parents and grandparents
The elder Castro asked that
celebrations scheduled for his 80th birthday on Aug. 13 be postponed until Dec. 2, the 50th anniversary of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.
Castro said he would also
temporarily delegate his duties as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba to Raul, who turned 75 in June and who has
been taking on a more public profile in recent weeks.
It was unknown how serious
Castro's condition was. But "any major surgery in a 79-year-old person is life-threatening," mainly because of risks for complications
such as pneumonia, blood clots and strokes, said Dr. Stephen Hanauer, gastroenerology chief at the University of Chicago hospitals.
In power since the triumph
of the Cuban revolution on Jan. 1, 1959, Castro has been the world's longest-ruling head of government. Only Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, crowned in 1946, and Britain's Queen Elizabeth, crowned in 1952, have been head of state longer.
The "maximum leader's" ironclad
rule has ensured Cuba remains among the
world's five remaining communist countries. The others are all in Asia: China,
Vietnam, Laos and North Korea.
Streets in Havana, including the coastal Malecon highway where young people often congregate, were typically
quiet late Monday. In Old Havana, waiters at a popular cafe were momentarily stunned as they watched the news. But they quickly
got back to work and put on brave faces.
"He'll get better, without
a doubt," said Agustin Lopez, 40. "There are really good doctors here, and he's extremely strong."
In the nearby Plaza Vieja,
Cuban musicians continued to play for customers — primarily foreign tourists — sitting at outdoor cafes. Signs
on the plaza's colonial buildings put up during a recent Cuban holiday said, "Live on Fidel, for 80 more."
"We're really sad, and pretty
shocked," said Ines Cesar, a retired 58-year-old metal worker. "But everyone's relaxed, too. I think he'll be fine."
When asked about how she
felt having Raul Castro at the helm of the nation, Cesar paused and said one word: "normal."
A leading Cuban government
opponent in Havana said she believed Castro must be gravely
ill to have stepped aside temporarily.
"It's almost the same as
death," Martha Beatriz Roque said in a telephone interview. "No one knows if he'll even be alive Dec. 2 when he's supposed
to celebrate his birthday."
In Washington, White House spokesman Peter Watkins said: "We are monitoring the situation.
We can't speculate on Castro's health, but we continue to work for the day of Cuba's
Castro rose to power after
an armed revolution he led drove out then-President Fulgencio Batista. The United States
was the first country to recognize Castro, but his radical economic reforms and rapid trials of Batista supporters quickly
unsettled U.S. leaders.
slapped a trade embargo on the island and severed diplomatic ties. Castro seized American property and businesses and turned
to the Soviet Union for military and economic assistance.
On April 16, 1961, Castro
declared his revolution to be socialist. The following day, he humiliated the United States
by capturing more than 1,100 exile soldiers in the Bay of Pigs invasion.
The world neared nuclear
conflict on Oct. 22, 1962, when President John F. Kennedy announced there were Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. After a tense week of diplomacy, Soviet leader Nikita
Krushchev removed them.
Meanwhile, Cuban revolutionaries
opened 10,000 new schools, erased illiteracy, and built a universal health care system. Castro backed revolutionary movements
in Latin America and Africa.
But former liberties were
whittled away as labor unions lost the right to strike, independent newspapers were shut down and religious institutions were
harassed. Over nearly five decades, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have fled Castro's rule, many of them settling just across
the Florida Straits in Miami.
Castro continually resisted
U.S. demands for multiparty elections
and an open economy despite American laws tightening the embargo in 1992 and 1996.
He characterized a U.S. plan for American aid in a post-Castro era as a thinly
disguised attempt at regime change and insisted his socialist system would survive long after his death.
Fidel Castro Ruz was born
in eastern Cuba, where his Spanish immigrant
father ran a prosperous plantation. His official birthday is Aug. 13, 1926, although some say he was born a year later.
Talk of Castro's mortality
was long taboo on the island, but that ended June 23, 2001, when he fainted during a speech in the sun. Although Castro quickly
returned to the stage, many Cubans understood for the first time that their leader would one day die.
Castro shattered a kneecap
and broke an arm when he fell after a speech on Oct. 20, 2004, but typically laughed off rumors about his health, most recently
a 2005 report that he had Parkinson's disease.
"They have tried to kill
me off so many times," Castro said in a November 2005 speech about the Parkinson's report, adding he felt "better than ever."
But the Cuban president
also said he would not insist on remaining in power if he ever became too sick to lead: "I'll call the (Communist) Party and
tell them I don't feel I'm in condition ... that please, someone take over the command."