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Castro's Ill Health Forces Unprecedented Transfer of Power in Cuba


For the first time in nearly 48 years, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has relinquished absolute power as president of the communist nation. Castro's faltering health forced the move. He underwent surgery for intestinal bleeding on Monday, but expects to return to power after recovery. As VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports, Cuba is still ruled by a Castro - Fidel's brother, Raul.

Fidel Castro issued a letter read on state television by his secretary. It said sustained intestinal bleeding obligated him to undergo what he described as a complicated surgical procedure, which requires several weeks of rest. The Cuban leader said the health crisis was provoked by severe stress because of a heavy work schedule during recent trips to Argentina and eastern Cuba.

He also asked that his 80th birthday celebration scheduled for August 13th, be postponed until December second. That is the 50th anniversary of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.

Fidel Castro named his 75-year-old brother Raul as temporary leader of the Cuban government, military and Communist Party. Raul Castro has served as defense minister, and second in command of the Communist Party and Council of State, Cuba's Supreme governing body.

Like his brother, Raul Castro is a communist hard-liner who recognizes the Party as the only source of power in Cuba. But the younger Castro also has promoted free-enterprise farmers' markets and suggested the communist system could be reformed.

Thousands of Cuban immigrants who fled Fidel Castro's authoritarian rule poured into the streets of Miami, Florida to celebrate what many believe to be the dictator's demise.

"My grandfather's a political prisoner and I came here when I was a baby and this is the happiest day of my life because that means I'm going to be able to see my country, Cuba," said one celebrant.

Others said: "Cuba is for Cubans!" "It may mark the beginning of a change in Cuba, which is what we all want."

In Cuba, people expressed shock over the ill health of the only leader most of them have ever known. "It's a shame Fidel is sick. As a Cuban I feel it deeply. I want him to get well soon and go on. This will continue just the same; this is communism."

"My Commandant will last a long time because he is good. Of course, he has to last,” said a woman.

After nearly 48 years in power, Fidel Castro's health appears to be deteriorating. He fainted during a public address in 2001. Two years ago, he tripped and broke his kneecap and right arm. Last year, he dismissed a U.S. intelligence report that he is suffering from Parkinson's disease. But Mr. Castro has promised to step down if he becomes too ill to govern.