(CNN) -- On Tuesday, February 19, after almost 50 years of rule, Fidel Castro announced that he will step down as Cuba's president and commander in chief. Known for leading the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship, embracing communism and carrying on tense relations with the United States, which led to a strict embargo, Castro is a highly contentious figure.
Sarah Salisbury, who traveled to Cuba last May, says signs reading "Live Fidel, 80 more" are everywhere.
As Robert Vadas of Potsdam, New York, asks, "Should he be remembered as the dictator and oppressor of human rights as his critics have claimed or for the power, health care and land he gave to the poor Cuban peasants?"
CNN.com asked readers to share their takes on Fidel Castro's legacy, along with their thoughts on whether the U.S. embargo should continue. Below is a selection of their responses, some of which have been edited for length and clarity.
Matt Lozier of Fort Thomas, Kentucky
Whether you love or hate what he stands for, Castro has to be considered one of the most important leaders of late history. He managed to unseat a U.S.-backed government through leadership of a popular uprising, establish and maintain a visible and vocal communist government a stone's throw from U.S. shores, and revolutionize the sociopolitical environment in Cuba.
While it must be said that dictatorship and socialism lend themselves to harsh political tactics and corrupt economic practices, and that Castro's government is certainly guilty of many human-rights abuses, it must also be said that many of his administration's policies have created compelling scenarios in the social arena. Castro's prioritization of education, public health, and the arts have seen success that is uncommon in a region of the world (Latin America and the Caribbean) whose economies and politics are so often marked by extreme polarization of rich and poor.
Again, while he has committed many wrongs against his people in the name of his socialist ideals, I think that pragmatists should accept that not every action of his government has been tyrannical or abusive.
David Marin of Elon, North Carolina
Castro's resignation is simply another farce and empty statement, like most actions of this brutal and paranoid regime. While Fidel is too old and unhealthy to continue as the front man for Cuba, his brother/puppet Raúl will simply continue Cuba's policy of oppressing its people and blaming an embargo for their woes.
The only way anything good will come out of this announcement is if Raúl executes a complete about-face and embraces freedom of speech and democracy. As a first generation Cuban-American, I've watched my grandparents die without ever returning to their homeland, and I see the lack of hope in the eyes of my parents when that particular idea is brought to their attention.
The generation of people who knew a prosperous and bountiful Cuba dies every single day; all that is left is a generation of people born into the 'Revolution', who have no idea what real freedom is like, whose minds are diluted by supposed communist propaganda.
Chew on this one for a bit: What in God's name would make you leave the United States on nothing more than some makeshift raft with a sack of boiled eggs and bottled water, and no guarantee that you'll even survive the trip? THAT is Cuba under Fidel and Raúl Castro.
Brian Jones of Arlington, Virginia
End this embargo. Haven't we had it long enough? Right now it only seems to be a point of wistful pride that we would keep it.
Daniel Careaga of Jackson, Mississippi
The end of an era!
Castro's resignation is an anticlimactic end to the 49-year oppressive reign over the Cuban people. Having had the extreme pleasure of outlasting most of his "Yankee imperialist" enemies, he now hands them the ultimate slap in the face ... he resigns. From the time I was a boy in Miami, having been born to Cuban exiles, I always thought Castro's rule would have ended with an assassination or a revolution. The joy and celebration in the streets would have competed with Carnival in Rio, yet here I sit in my hospital, now a physician in Mississippi, a world away from the exile community, reading on the Internet about the end of the Castro regime and barely crack a smile.
Hopefully with new blood will come a gradual Westernization. For the sake of the Cuban people, Cuban exiles and because of its geographic proximity to the U.S., to every American, the evolution of the Cuban government will not be reliant on Hugo Chavez.
Brandon M. of Oakdale, Minnesota
Castro stepping down has been seen coming for some time. The embargo has obviously accomplished nothing since the country continued forward through time. We are not exporting or importing anything that Cuba or the U.S. can't get elsewhere.
The embargo should be lifted ... with that said, if the embargo IS lifted we will see the largest land grab in our recent history.
Cuba would become a tourist destination and resorts/hotels/restaurants will FILL the beachfront. "Executive" homes will fill in and people will be made rich. I hope that the people of Cuba and the economy of Cuba can see this and want to become a democratic country.
Tom Praska of Minnetonka, Minnesota
I hope the Cuban people can avoid becoming slaves to the corporations, as has happened here. Maybe they do have a better way! They all get health care and educations. We don't.
Robert Vadas of Potsdam, New York
Perhaps the resignation of Castro can jump-start a more rational policy toward Cuba, which has been missing since Castro took power from the brutal dictator Batista. While most Americans have been given a rather biased and limited understanding of Castro and the realities of the Cuban revolution it can be said that Castro has been an enigma. Should he be remembered as the dictator and oppressor of human rights as his right wing critics have claimed or for the power, health care and land he gave to the poor Cuban peasants? Or perhaps for both, relative to how he affected us all ... either way, Castro is one of the more interesting leaders that has survived the Cold War and U.S. attempts to kill him.
I only hope that Bush's calls for democracy in Cuba are not a mask for reintroducing multinational companies, inequality and the rise of another wealthy caste in that forsaken country.
Catherine Penner of Gulf Breeze, Florida
The trade embargo should have been lifted LONG ago. Those Miami Cubans think they are going to get their land back. Good luck; ask the American Indians how that worked!
Bryan Danek of Gilberts, Illinois
The end of Fidel Castro's era leaves me conflicted because for better or worse it's the end of an institution. I was born in 1972 so I was not around when he and Kennedy battled it out. I think over the years he did mellow out and has led a stabilized country. Given the circumstances faced in Iraq, can we really say that democracy can work anywhere? We certainly would like every country to enjoy our freedoms, yet the U.S. is far from perfect. However, we have had time to adjust to these freedoms slowly. Democracy cannot be turned on like a light switch. Hopefully, Raúl will be the bridge that helps Cuba get there eventually.
Manny Dominguez of Charles Town, West Virginia
My mother was able to escape Castro's government in 1967 when she was only 18 years old and I was 2 weeks old; my father was not allowed to leave with us. Since I was 18 years old, I have been repaying this/our country for the gift of freedom it gave my family. Today I am a major in the U.S. Air Force.
Although I see Castro's resignation as a first, good sign, it is not the time for us Cuban-Americans to celebrate yet. We should not lift the embargo until free elections are given and a democratic Cuban government is in place to work with the US. The Cubans who came in the '60s who helped build what Miami is today, are eager to lead and help restore Cuba to its pre-Castro glory and the largest middle class in the Caribbean.
Mike Doody of Manchester, New York
U.S. policy toward Cuba is (and has been) horrible. We've been condemned by the UN 16 or 17 years in a row for our embargo on them; we simply veto the resolution every single year. We used to "hate" Cuba because of the Russian connection. What happened in 1989 when the Soviet Union fell? No more Russians in Cuba. Did we accept Cuba after that? No! We drew the noose tighter on them! The U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba has never been about communism or that Fidel is a supposed dictator. It has to do with the fact that their leadership has never bowed to American imperialism. We will never accept Cuba until a regime is in power that allows us to do what we always do: take their resources (natural and labor) for free. If Cuba has a government that allows this to take place, we won't care WHAT kind of government it is. So long as we get what WE want, we'll call it a democracy. If we DON'T get what we want, it's a dictatorship or a communist government.
Audrey Nickel of Mount Hermon, California
I think it's long past time for the U.S. government to lift the embargo on Cuba ... regardless of who's in power there. We regularly trade with and travel to and from countries whose leadership is just as repressive, if not even more so (China springs to mind immediately). ... It's not right that we should single out the people of Cuba simply because a handful of exiles have formed a strong voting lobby.
Kathi Orgeron of Beaumont, Texas
Now that Castro has resigned, the embargo should be totally lifted. An open door to trade and tourism will be the broom that sweeps the last crumbs of communism from Cuba. E-mail to a friend
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