Castro steps down as leader

Cuba's president Fidel Castro says he will not return to office. He will step down from the posts of Commander-in-Chief and the Chairman of the State Council of Cuba. The announcement of Castro's retirement appeared in the official Communist Party newspap

The National Assembly is now expected to nominate his brother Raul as leader at the weekend.

Raul Castro has been de-facto head of state since his brother underwent intestinal surgery a year and a half ago.

Meanwhile, US President George Bush says he hopes Cuba will be on its way to a 'democratic transition' after Castro steps down. However, the US has indicated it's not ready to lift a trade embargo on the island.

Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926 in eastern Cuba to a prosperous sugar cane plantation owner. As a child he attended Catholic schools in Santiago de Cuba and Havana. In 1945 he attended the University of Havana and graduated five years later with a law degree.

It was there that he first became interested in politics, taking part in organised political groups on the university campus and growing more passionate about social injustice in Cuba.

Castro refused to accept U.S.-backed General Fulgencio Batista as the legitimate leader of Cuba. 

In December 1958, after a period of guerrilla fighting with his 26 July Movement, which included Che Guevara, he led a march on Havana. Batista fled and on January 1, 1959 Castro assumed power.

He quickly began reforming the country, expropriating foreign businesses and collectivising agriculture.

Repeated assassination attempts by the CIA and the abortive U.S. and Cuban invasion of the Bay of Pigs made Castro increasingly wary of the U.S.

When Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev offered to place nuclear missiles in Cuba, Castro agreed. This led to the famous Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

On July 31, 2006 79-year-old Fidel Castro underwent major intestinal surgery and entrusted the leadership to his brother Raul. It was the first time Castro had relinquished power in all his 47 years as leader.

Expert on Latin America Sergey Brilev says whatever changes Cuba experiences, power will stay within Castro's circle.

“I think there will be a lot of changes and Cuba will inevitably have to pass through what Russia did in the 1990s. But at the same time Fidel has guaranteed that the power on this island will stay in the hands of the Cubans, communists or non-communists, but they will be from the circle of Fidel and Raul Castro,” predicted Mr Brilev.