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Castro Retires as President, but Not Much May Change in Cuba

A look back at almost 50 years of Fidel Castro’s Cuba and its stormy relationship with the U.S. Transcript of radio braodcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

One of the world's longest serving leaders announced this week that he is leaving office after just short of fifty eventful years. Fidel Castro of Cuba is eighty-one years old and in poor health. He named his brother Raul as acting president in two thousand six.

In a letter published Tuesday, Fidel Castro said he was not saying goodbye to the Cuban people. His only wish, he said, is to "fight as a soldier in the battle of ideas."

On Sunday the Cuban National Assembly is expected to name seventy-six-year-old Raul Castro as president. The two brothers appear to share very similar ideas about governing the communist-ruled island. Fidel Castro will apparently remain a member of Parliament and is widely expected to still have strong influence.

He came to power as a socialist revolutionary in nineteen fifty-nine. He overthrew the pro-American Fulgencio Batista, who himself had seized power. Fidel Castro soon won the support of the Soviet Union at the height of its cold war tensions with the United States.

In nineteen sixty-one, a force of Cuban exiles trained by the American Central Intelligence Agency launched an invasion of the island. The Cuban government learned of the plan. Within days its troops defeated what became known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. The failure was a public relations disaster for the United States and its president, John F. Kennedy.

In February of nineteen sixty-two Kennedy used power approved by Congress to ban all trade with Cuba. The embargo of goods except food and medicine is still in effect.

In October of nineteen sixty-two, the United States found that the Soviets had missiles in Cuba. Cuba is one hundred forty-five kilometers from the Florida coast. President Kennedy warned of the risk of a nuclear strike on the United States. He ordered a naval blockade which soon forced the Soviets to remove the missiles.

But the Soviets remained Cuba’s top ally and trade partner for thirty years. The Cuban economy suffered after the Soviet Union collapsed in nineteen ninety-one. But in recent years the economy has improved. Venezuela, led by socialist President Hugo Chavez, has become an important ally.

Supporters of Fidel Castro praised a leader who provided free health care and education in Cuba. But others condemned a dictator with a repressive government that spread communist revolution in Latin America and Africa.

Cuba has one legal political party, the Communist Party. The media rights group Reporters Without Borders rates Cuba as the fifth worst nation for press freedoms. Human rights groups say Cuba's eleven million citizens are denied privacy, free speech and fair legal process.

The Bush administration says it has no plans to end economic restrictions against Cuba without changes like free elections. President Bush says he hopes the end of Fidel Castro’s rule can be the beginning of peaceful reform.

And that’s IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Bob Doughty.