Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro said today that he will not return to lead the country, retiring as head of state 49 years after he seized power in an armed revolution.
Castro, 81, said in a statement to the country that he would not seek a new presidential term when the National Assembly meets on 24 February.
"To my dear compatriots, who gave me the immense honor in recent days of electing me a member of parliament ... I communicate to you that I will not aspire to or accept - I repeat not aspire to or accept - the positions of President of Council of State and Commander in Chief," Castro said in the statement published on the website of the Communist Party's Granma newspaper.
The National Assembly or legislature is expected to nominate his brother and designated successor Raul Castro, 76, as president in place of Castro, who has not appeared in public for almost 19 months after being stricken by an undisclosed illness.
His retirement drew the curtain on a political career that spanned the Cold War and survived US enmity, CIA assassination attempts and the demise of Soviet Communism.
A charismatic leader famous for his long speeches delivered in his green military fatigues, Castro is admired in the Third World for standing up to the United States but considered by his opponents a tyrant who suppressed freedom.
His illness and departure from Cuba's helm have raised doubts about the future of the Western Hemisphere's only communist state.
The bearded leader who took power in an armed uprising against a U.S.-backed dictator in 1959 had temporarily ceded power to his younger brother after he underwent emergency surgery to stop intestinal bleeding in mid-2006.
Castro has only been seen in pictures since then, looking gaunt and frail, though his health improved enough a year ago to allow him to keep in the public mind writing reams of articles published by Cuba's state press.
Castro could remain politically influential as first secretary of the ruling Communist Party and elder statesman.
Raul Castro, Cuba's long-standing defense minister, has run the country since 31 July as acting president. He has raised expectations of economic reforms to improve the daily lot of Cubans, but has yet to deliver.
Fidel Castro timeline: Click here to see key events of his rule