Scripps Howard: After ruthlessness, longevity may be Fidel Castro's greatest asset. He seized power in 1959 and has never relinquished it, even for a moment, until now. Only the monarchs of Great Britain and Thailand have served longer as heads of state.
He has outlasted nine U.S. presidents whose policies were directed at his ouster and seemed on his way to outlasting a 10th. And now it seems that Castro, who celebrates his 80th birthday on Aug. 13 and whose doctor says could live to 140, is not so ageless after all.
On Monday, Cuban state TV announced that Castro had -- temporarily, to be sure -- turned over power to his younger brother and designated successor, Raul, while he underwent "complicated" surgery for an "intestinal crisis." Raul turned 75 in June.
Cuba has fallen far down the list of U.S. foreign-policy priorities since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 deprived Castro of his principal economic and political patron. But in 1961 he humiliated the United States by capturing most of a CIA-backed invasion force at the Bay of Pigs and the following year he brought the United States and Soviet Union close to war with the Cuban missile crisis.
Moscow removed the missiles and Washington agreed not to invade Cuba and thereafter Castro made a nuisance of himself by supporting proxy wars in Africa and Latin America. Now he annoys the United States principally by allying himself with the anti-American Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who gives every indication of wanting to be the next Castro.
Clearly, Raul, the army, secret police and top party officials have been positioning themselves to hold onto power after Fidel's death, thus assuring more poverty and oppression for the Cuban people. Given a free vote, Castroism would not survive; the people have already rendered their verdict by fleeing to the United States in droves and at great risk.
For 46 years, the United States has imposed sanctions and embargoes on Cuba, to no great effect other than allowing Castro to blame Washington for his many economic failures.