Posted Feb. 19, 2007 – Longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the controversial dictator whom many people of African descent have seen as an inspirational figure in world politics, has stepped down from power, another sign that his health is rapidly deteriorating.
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The 81-year-old president, the longest-serving world leader, was revered after snatching the reigns of government in a revolution on New Year’s Day in 1959. For the next five decades, he would rule the small island nation, just 90 miles from the Florida coast, as a no-nonsense disciplinarian, while denouncing the United States government at every turn and simultaneously expressing solidarity with poor and minority people in the United States and abroad.
But U.S. officials have long seen Castro’s Cuba, with ties to America’s No. 1 Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union, as a serious threat to national security. They note that the Communist government, which Castro has maintained with an iron fist since his ascension to power, has ignored human rights, suppressing free expression and denying the citizenry a plethora of other basic democratic principles. Critics also point out that Cuban prisons are full of those who have spoken out against policies they see as repressive and inhumane. And, they say, don't forget the scores of Cubans who risk life and limb each year on homemade vessels in treacherous, shark-infested waters to find solace on American shores.
On more than one occasion, the United States has orchestrated attempts to overthrow and/or assassinate the bearded dictator, known for his trademark Havana cigar and military fatigues.
Still, many American Blacks and people of color around the world point to Castro’s outspoken criticism of South Africa’s former racist apartheid regime. In May 1994, for example, newly inaugurated South African President Nelson Mandela said to Castro, “You made this possible.” And it is why the ANC had elaborated earlier, “without the . . . Sacrifice of the Cuban people . . . We possibly would not have reached the historic victory . . . Cuba remain[s] a shining example.” Supporters also cite Castro’s denunciation of the repressive government of Angola and, more recently, the Cuban leader’s offer to send food, medicine and doctors to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast to help U.S. citizens who were devastated by floodwaters. Several African-American members of Congress – including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) – have urged U.S. leaders to give up America's policy of cold-shouldering the Caribbean regime in place of one that emphasizes communication with an emphasis on mutual benefit.
In a statement released Tuesday, Castro said, "I will not aspire nor accept – I repeat, I will not aspire or accept, the post of president of the Council of State and Commander in Chief.” Essentially, Fidel’s 76-year-old brother, Raul, who has been running the country since the president had intestine surgery in July 2006, will assume power.
Castro, in his statement, also reminded that, "The adversary to be defeated is extremely strong," referring to the United States. "However, we have been able to keep it at bay for half a century."
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