One Of Alabama's Biggest Business Partners Resigns; His Name is Castro

The world's longest serving head of state - if you don't count queens or kings - is stepping down.

Fidel Castro resigned very early Tuesday morning after forty nine years as Cuba's president.

Castro fell ill after intestinal surgery in 2006. Since then, he's held figurehead status in the government with his brother Raul handling most of the details.

The news of Castro's resignation is important to many people in Alabama, because in recent years, our state has signed several business deals with Cuba.

So what will change?

Some opposition leaders and American officials say they believe Castro's demise might lead to democratic reforms.

Castro led the Cuban revolution beginning in 1958, survived invasions, assassination attempts, mass defections to the United States, but in the end, only time could stop him.

"This is a transition period we've waited for a long time," said Alabama Agriculture commissioner Ron Sparks.

Sparks has done business personally with Castro, paving the way for Alabama to supply about half the chicken imported to the island, more than 90 percent of the electrical poles, a total of more than 150 million dollars in trade.

Sparks hopes Castro's resignation will bring even more prosperity.

"What I hope happens, number one, is to start looking at the travel sanctions, allowing Americans to go to Cuba," he said.

He is not alone in that hope.

"I know lots of people in Montgomery, Alabama, that are doing business in Cuba right now," said Montgomery County commissioner Todd Strange.

Strange was in a group of people the U.S. State Department sponsored to visit the island nation. His meeting with Castro began after midnight local time.

"You know, I didn't see the despot, I didn't see the dictator side of him," Strange explained.  "He did talk about the fact that he'd like to do business with the United States."

Strange says Castro moderated his revolutionary stance in the last few years, realizing his people needed something more.

"And, the way to do more things for his people is to bring monetary value into the country," he said.

Now, Castro is stepping down, with his younger brother Raul waiting in the wings.

Sparks says that might give cause to even more hope for democracy.

"I believe history will show Raul is a little more favorable about opening up and unleashing some of the strong policies they've had in the past," said Sparks.

Castro's name is still magic even in the United States.

Todd Strange tells the story how the dictator gave everyone in his delegation boxes of the forbidden Cuban cigars.

Strange passed his over to another man, who promply got stopped at the U.S.  Customs area when the group returned.

The marshals were ready to charge him when the man explained the cigars came directly from Castro himself.

Strange said the agents immediately turned everyone loose.