Fidel Castro finally stood down as President of Cuba on Tuesday after 19 months out of the camouflage director’s chair with serious intestinal illness. The 81-year-old leader has officially handed power to his 76-year-old brother Raul Castro, who has been acting in the job since July 2006. This is a transfer to what some commentators have already dubbed "Castro lite".
From a scan of the US media, there doesn’t seem to be any talk of ending the 48-year old embargo against the embattled Communist island.
However, the North Americans are not shy about suggesting their Cuban neighbours clean up their act. Speaking in Rwanda, President Bush said he saw the handover as an opportunity to institute free and fair elections – "and I mean free and fair, not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as true democracy".
Back in 1961 Fidel famously claimed "the revolution has no time for elections", but he has toned down the Communist rhetoric rather a lot since the collapse of the Soviet Empire left his country bankrupt back in the 1990s.
It seems a little rich for Bush to be whinging about staged elections and dynastic leadership, but that’s what you can do when you’re the self-appointed leader of the free world and not the father figure of a tinpot dictatorship, as Castro is often painted.
Meanwhile the clamouring trio of Presidential hopefuls have chorused their support for change in Cuba, but only Barack Obama has intimated that the embargo might ease under his leadership.
Raul Castro has been making concessions to the Yanks, too – promising to catch any terror suspects who escape from Guantanamo Bay into his territory.
With vocal left-wing leaders like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Evo Morales in Bolivia, the US is going to continue to face some stiff ideological criticism from its Southern neighbours. But it is doubtful that US foreign policy in Central America will ever again become the issue it was in the heady 1960s. Foreign policy is a major issue in this election, but there are much more urgent stuff-ups to deal with elsewhere.
Castro has out-termed eight US Presidents, and may yet live to see the demise of the man who wished eight months ago that "One day the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away".
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