HAVANA — Fidel Castro's surprise announcement that he stepped down as head of the Communist Party five years ago — despite widespread belief that he remained in charge — marks the bizarre end of an era for a nation, and a man, whose fates have been intertwined for more than half a century.
Castro, 84, made the revelation Tuesday — with word of the resignation thrown in as an aside halfway through a newspaper opinion piece that otherwise focused on President Barack Obama.
The declaration raises questions about how much power Castro has been wielding behind the scenes since his 2006 illness, and to what extent his 79-year-old brother, Raul, has had freedom to make decisions as he pushed the country to enact sweeping economic reforms.
The announcement also gives the Castros an opportunity to tap a possible future successor with their naming of a new party No. 2. The answer will likely become apparent during a crucial Communist Party Congress next month. It is widely expected that Raul Castro will formally be named to the top spot at the congress, and analysts say the choice of second secretary will say a lot about how the brothers envision a transition to an eventual post-Castro era.
In Tuesday's opinion piece, Castro said that when he got sick in 2006, "I resigned without hesitation from my state and political positions, including first secretary of the party … and I never tried to exercise those roles again." He said that even when his health began to improve, he stayed out of state and party affairs "even though everyone, affectionately, continued to refer to me by the same titles." He indicated that, with or without formal titles, he will always be an intellectual force in the revolution, a refrain he has uttered several times in recent years.