Castro publicly ceding power suggests end of reign is near

Just three weeks after the Bush Administration released a report stating that the US would work to bring democracy to Cuba in the event of Fidel Castro's death or incapacitation, the Cuban dictator (pictured left) announced July 31, through a letter on Cuban television, that he was temporarily relinquishing his duties as president and handing over power to his brother, Raul Castro (pictured right), owing to an intestinal crisis and surgery that would leave him unable to perform his duties as president for several weeks.

Just three weeks after the Bush Administration released a report stating that the US would work to bring democracy to Cuba in the event of Fidel Castro's death or incapacitation, the Cuban dictator (pictured left) announced July 31, through a letter on Cuban television, that he was temporarily relinquishing his duties as president and handing over power to his brother, Raul Castro (pictured right), owing to an intestinal crisis and surgery that would leave him unable to perform his duties as president for several weeks.

The letter suggested that Castro was incapacitated because of the stress of public appearances in Cuba and Argentina. It is the first time that Castro has ceded his control of Cuba since his rise to power in 1959.

Why does it matter?

"I think that Cuba is an incredibly significant foreign policy issue. Eventually, when Castro becomes incapacitated or dies, Cuba will loom as a potential flashpoint for the US," says Charles Krause, SVP at APCO Worldwide and formerly the Latin-American foreign correspondent for The Washington Post.

Cuban Americans have a vested interest in Castro's ceding of power and, Krause notes, will demand that the US government ensure that Castro's successors will not be able to continue his reign.

"In the past, whenever Castro has been incapacitated, they have never publicly announced it like they did this time. That is a change in their communications strategy," says Krause. "It means that they are beginning to prepare the way for Castro to bow out. It is probably what most PR firms would have suggested to do."

Five facts:

1 The Cuban Revolution began July 26, 1953, with a battle at the Moncada army barracks, and culminated in Castro's takeover of the island in January 1959.

2 The US instituted a trade embargo with Cuba in 1960 and broke off diplomatic ties with the communist regime in 1961.

3 On December 16, 2001, shipments of corn and frozen chicken arrived in Cuba from the US, representing the first food sales to Cuba in almost 40 years.

4 Beginning in the summer of 2001, Castro had a series of health-related incidents that have shown his vulnerability to the world and proven his mortality to the Cuban people.

5 Raul Castro turned 75 in June and has been featured more prominently in the public spotlight recently. He has been viewed as the natural successor to his brother for several years.

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