Ganma, Cuba's official news site, has just announced that Fidel Castro has given up his presidency of the country. On hearing the news we immediately called our Observer in Havana, blogger Yoani Sanchez, to get her reaction. As the news had not yet been broadcast on Cuban TV or radio, Sanchez was unaware of the declaration and gave an initial reaction of "a sense of relief". She said she believes that the Cuban system could now evolve into something similar to the Chinese regime.
It was 3am in Cuba. Commentary by telephone from Yoani Sanchez, 32, our Observer in Havana. See her blog.
The Cubans have been waiting for this news to come any day now. At over 80-years-old and in bad health, it was unlikely that Fidel Castro would carry on governing the country. But honestly, the question of a new head of state is not people's greatest concern right now. We're too preoccupied with the problems of daily life.
The transition has been gradually going on since the announcement that Raul Castro would act as interim president in July 2006. Fidel's brother has made plenty of speeches about much-needed reforms for the country, but nothing's really changed. Raul's only made cosmetic changes, notably economic ones, which don't help the population at all.
Maybe things will change now. For me and the young generation, this news comes as a great relief. We've never had another president, and we saw him as an obstruction to our country's development. I'm not saying that's what everyone thinks; for some this will be a huge shock.
Fidel is a symbol. We hope that his departure will close a chapter of history for the country and help the Cuban government to aim for more political and economic liberty. I do think the country will force its leaders to move on, because we've really had enough, we need a change. But I'd say that the most likely scenario is that we see a Chinese-style regime imposed in Cuba: the development of economic productivity while political liberty is kept to a minimum. And, remember, Castro's announced that he'll no longer be head of state, but not that he'll resign as first secretary of the communist party. So it's possible that he'll still have a strong influence in the government."
Posted by Molly McClurg, 19 Feb.08