On the streets of Havana, surprise and disbelief as the news spread

The people of Havana were finding it difficult to imagine life without Fidel yesterday. Few of those on their way to work in the early hours were even aware of the news on the front pages of Cuba's official newspapers.

The Communist Party dailies Granma and Juventud Rebelde that broke the story still hadn't reached many kiosks, so few Habaneros had read the news before it began to flood the airwaves of the state-owned radio and television stations.

Their first reaction was surprise, and initial disbelief. "It said what?" exclaimed Armando, 69, a carpark attendant in the El Vedado neighbourhood of the Cuban capital, astonished at the news.

With tears in his eyes, Armando nodded his head and said: "He is very ill, it's to be expected." The ailing leader had always said that he would never quit his post while he remained alive, but many Cubans had begun to think that his prolonged absence signalled his withdrawal from power.

Alberto, 32, an administrator, said the 81-year-old leader "must have suffered a relapse". "He's been off a long time," referring to Fidel Castro's 19-month convalescence from a serious intestinal illness suffered in July 2006. But Alberto added: "Make no mistake. Even though he says he's no longer President, he'll keep reading the documents and saying this yes and that no. Fidel will keep on ruling."

There had been signs in recent months hinting that yesterday's announcement was in the air, one Havana-based international commentator observed.

Since December, President Castro has written articles in Granma in which he said he "would never cling to power".

Gustavo, 28, a security guard, said: "I think they made the announcement so they can stop calling Raul Castro first vice-president and second party secretary, and just call him President directly." But, the young man added, even if Raul Castro became President – a development he considered inevitable – Cuba would experience few changes in the short or medium term. "Here things are done at their proper time. Just because Fidel ceases being President, things aren't going to change overnight," Gustavo declared.

But a driver, who said he would rather not give his name, said he found Fidel's resignation "a logical development", necessary to avoid prolonging for any longer the situation in which an interim President has ruled for 18 months. "It was obvious he would resign, and now things will be better."

Cuban radio and television repeated the announcement throughout the day, but without adding any further comment.

Alicia, 44, a private landlady, confessed she didn't usually listen to news programmes. But she thought that President Castro's decision to resign was: "Precise, the right thing at the right time. He's administered the plaster before the wound appears. If he did it today, rather than waiting until next Sunday [when the national congress is to appoint a new ruling cabinet] because he's calculated every move."

"He's not a great economist, he's brought this country to economic ruin," she added. "But as a politician he's a genius." She said she hoped the future would bring "something new because it's necessary, the situation demands it".

Enma, 78, said: "I think the panorama looks very difficult. I'm worried, I'm trembling, because I don't know what changes this new situation will bring. I don't think there's anybody who's more intelligent than Fidel." Alberto, 55, took the news in his stride, and even ventured to suggest that "the announcement that he has resigned doesn't mean that he won't continue".

Among those who heard the news early was Esther, a retired teacher who listens regularly to her favourite station, Radio Marti. "As far as I'm concerned he had effectively already resigned, and I think everything will continue just the same. If he doesn't speak, he'll write," she insisted. "Nothing will change. For the moment, there's no solution."

Suggested Topics
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor