Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fidel Castro resigns as Cuban leader

Fidel Castro has announced he is stepping down as leader of Cuba. As he did, President Bush called on the country to move towards democracy. "I believe that the change from Fidel Castro ought to begin a period of democratic transition," the US President said. Castro, who took power in 1959, will however remain in government as an adviser. Fidel’s brother Raul has effectively led the country while the Cuban leader has suffered from a number of health problems. Raul rose from defence minister to vice president and was handed the reigns of power in 2006. The rule by Castro polarizes many Cubans. Hundreds of thousands who have fled the country over the years see him as a dictator, but many on the island see him as a someone who has maintained Cuba’s independence and stood up against the might of the USA. The CIA are alleged to have initiated 638 attempts to assassinate Castro, all of which failed. But the country is remembered more for the Cuban missile crisis which is widely seen as the closest the world has been to nuclear war. In the poorest areas of Latin America and Africa, Castro is seen as a hero, the leader of the Third World, and the enemy of the wealthy and greedy. On a visit to South Africa in 1998 he was warmly received by President Nelson Mandela. President Mandela gave Castro South Africa's highest civilian award for foreigners, the Order of Good Hope. To others he is seen as a cruel dictator who imprisons his political enemies and has stifled freedom within Cuba. Professor Marifeli Pérez Stable, a Cuban immigrant and former Castro supporter has said that "There were thousands of executions, forty, fifty thousand political prisoners. The treatment of political prisoners, with what we today know about human rights and the international norms governing human rights ... it is legitimate to raise questions about possible crimes against humanity in Cuba.” Castro acknowledges that Cuba holds political prisoners, but argues that Cuba is justified because these prisoners are not jailed because of their political beliefs, but have been convicted of "counter-revolutionary" crimes, including bombings. Most news broadcasters led with the story, from CNN to ITN though the Cuban News Agency did not rate the news at the top of its agenda. George Galloway, of the Respect Party, said there would probably little political change in the country. Speaking on ITV News in the UK, the MP said that many Cubans had far better health care and education than before the revolution. Although he conceded that many poor people have escaped the country, he said that “if you landed a plane in London and offered green-cards and a flight to America, you’d fill it very quickly” [BBC / CNN / Sky News / Fox News].

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