Correction to This Article
In some Aug. 1 editions, an Associated Press article about Fidel Castro incorrectly said that Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended to the throne in 1952, was the world's longest-serving head of state. Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej succeeded to the throne in 1946. His formal coronation was in 1950.

Ailing Castro Transfers Powers

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By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Cuban President Fidel Castro, a nemesis of the U. S. government for more than four decades, temporarily relinquished power on Monday for the first time in his long reign, saying he had undergone intestinal surgery.

Castro, whose government said he was hospitalized in Havana because of stress-related gastrointestinal bleeding, appointed his brother, Raul Castro, as temporary president of Cuba, leader of the nation's military and head of the Communist Party. A Cuban government source said late Monday night that while Castro's condition is serious, he is expected to recuperate.

In a statement read by one of his top deputies on national television, Castro said he would step away from power while he recovers. "The operation obligates me to undertake several weeks of rest," the statement said. Castro's intense schedule, the statement said, "provoked in me a sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding that obligated me to undergo a complicated surgical procedure."

Castro, whose 80th birthday is Aug. 13, is known for working at a breakneck pace and sleeping only a few hours each night. In mid-July, he traveled to Argentina for a gathering of South American leaders to formalize Cuba's involvement in the Mercosur trade agreement.

He has asked that planned celebrations of his birthday be postponed until Dec. 2, the 50th anniversary of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces. Castro and the rebels he led landed on the southern coast on that date in 1956, eventually taking power in 1959 after dictator Fulgencio Batista fled into exile.

The mood in Cuba was reported to be subdued. "We're really sad, and pretty shocked," Ines Cesar, a retired 58-year-old metal worker told the Associated Press in Havana. "But everyone's relaxed, too. I think he'll be fine."

In South Florida, which with Castro's rise became in many ways the capital of the Cuban exile, thousands of people spilled into the streets for an impromptu euphoric celebration. People in the crowd shouted "Cuba Libre!"

Cars lined up for miles on Calle Ocho in Miami, as well as in Hialeah and Westchester, with drivers blaring horns, screaming, banging pots and pans and waving Cuban flags.

"This is freedom for us," said Heydee Zamora, 49, the owner of a small business who was parading with a flag out her window. She came to Miami 39 years ago. "The tyrant is gone! We can see our country free at last!"

"I don't know if it's true or not but I've waited a long time for this," said Higinio Munoz, 47, a wedding photographer who came to Florida when he was 5.

Many thought of loved ones who have died during the long exile and Castro's long reign.

"My dad passed away in February," Munoz said. "My only regret is that he could not be here to celebrate with me."


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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