New Political Era Dawns for Cuba as Castro Steps Down; as Fidel Castro Leaves as Leader of Cuba We Look at the Global Reaction and the Hopes for Lasting Change on the Caribbean Marxist Outpost
Byline: Caribbean Marxist
BRITAIN and America yesterday urged Cuba to embark on a transition to democracy, after Fidel Castro announced he was stepping down as president after ruling the communist state for nearly 50 years.
The end of Castro's rule, the longest in the world for a head of government, frees his 76-year-old brother Raul to implement reforms he has hinted at since taking over as acting president when Castro fell ill in July 2006.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman said, "This is now an opportunity to make progress towards a peaceful transition to a pluralist democracy."
And President George Bush declared, "The United States will help the people of Cuba realise the blessings of liberty."
President Castro, 81, has announced he will not seek re-nomination as his country's leader, after a long period of illness.
A letter signed by Castro published overnight in the online edition of the communist party daily, Granma, 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."
The new National Assembly is meeting for first time on Sunday since January elections to pick the governing Council of State, including the presidency Castro holds.
There had been wide speculation about whether he would accept a nomination for re-election to that post or retire.
Mr Brown's spokesman added, "Our position on Cuba is a longstanding one, which is that we have always sought to encourage a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba, as well as a greater respect for human rights and the unconditional release of all political prisoners.
"Anything which encourages progress down that path is something we would welcome."
MPs agreed the departure of the ailing leader could open up a new era in Cuba's relations with the rest of the world.
Chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Labour MP Mike Gapes, said that while Castro had not exercised real power for some time, his resignation could pave the way for improved relations with the US.
"In reality he hasn't been calling the shots for some time. I don't think we can expect any dramatic changes, but symbolically it is obviously significant," he said.
"Perhaps after the US presidential elections are over, it may mean there is a possibility of improving relations between the United States and Cuba."
Labour MP Ian Gibson, chairman of the parliamentary all-party group on Cuba, said, "I think the spirit of the revolution will live on in the younger generation of Cubans, but I would certainly think there will be differences in the relationships with other countries.
"Cuba understands that it is a global economy now. I think there will be less fear of America and more interaction with Europe."
Labour MP Ian Davidson, another member of the all-party group, said he hoped that Cuba would not become an issue in the forthcoming US Presidential elections.
He expressed concern that the pressure to win votes in areas like Miami - where there is a large population of Cuban exiles deeply opposed to Castro - could lead Republicans like John McCain to ratchet up calls for action.
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said he hoped that the international community would now "hold out the hand of friendship" to Cuba and encourage a process of democratic reform.
"With Fidel Castro gone we must hope that Cuba carries out major reforms and joins the democratic world. It would be a tragedy if he were succeeded by a family dynasty," he said.
"It is important for the international community, especially America, to encourage reform and hold out the hand of friendship."
Mr Bush told reporters during a visit to the Rwandan capital Kigali, "What does this mean for the people in Cuba?
"They're the ones who suffered under Fidel Castro. …