The GOOD: The potential for change – new island paradise for Americans.
The BAD: Embargo stays. What’s up with THAT??
The UGLY: "It’s very good that Fidel resigns. But if Fidel dies, it’s better," – quote from an exile.
MIAMI – Cuban exiles in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood welcomed Tuesday’s news that Cuban President Fidel Castro had officially resigned power, but most in the heart of the Cuban exile community weren’t optimistic the move would bring major changes or democracy to the communist nation.
As news of the resignation spread, motorists honked vigorously at police patrol cars and television reporters. The streets came alive with chatter as small groups gathered on the streets or in local eateries.
"I hope this is the beginning of the end of the system, but we have to wait," said 35-year-old chemist Omar Fernandez, who left Cuba for the U.S. six years ago.Repeated rumors of Castro’s death over the years helped prepare residents and officials for a day that all knew would eventually come. The community’s reactions so far were calm, peaceful and not as boisterous as when thousands took to the streets after Castro temporarily handed power to his brother Raul in July 2006.
Police on watch
Most exiles view Castro as a ruthless dictator who forced them, their parents or grandparents from their home after he seized power in a revolution in 1959. Police said they were "keeping a sharp eye" on Little Havana, but residents weren’t gathering in large numbers to celebrate. Nothing indicated a need for increased patrols off Florida or that a mass migration was imminent, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chris O’Neil.
"It’s very good that Fidel resigns. But if Fidel dies, it’s better," said Juan Acosta, a Cuban who left the Caribbean island in 1980, as he stopped for a newspaper on Calle Ocho, Little Havana’s main street.
"The system there is almost over. You are seeing the end," said Acosta, who like many Miami Cubans has relatives on the island, in this case his mother and sister. "The dictatorship is over."
The Cuban-American National Foundation, or CANF, a leading anti-Castro exile organization, said Castro’s resignation "opens a new chapter in the history of the revolution and the history of the Cuban people."
"After 50 years there is no more one-man rule in Cuba because his successors cannot maintain the same power and the same position that he attained during the last 50 years," CANF president Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez said.
Embargo to stay
Separately, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said the United States will not soon lift its embargo on Cuba.
Asked by reporters at the State Department if Washington planned to change its Cuba policy now that Castro has stepped down, Negroponte replied: "I can’t imagine that happening anytime soon." He declined further comment.
The centerpiece of American policy toward Cuba has been the economic embargo, first instituted in limited form in 1960 and strengthened in 1962. Castro persistently called the trade embargo "criminal," and claimed that its economic impact on the island ran well into the tens of billions of dollars.
In Rwanda, President Bush expressed hope that the end of Fidel Castro’s presidency will launch a transition to democracy in Cuba after nearly 50 years of ironclad, communist rule.
"What does this mean for the people in Cuba?" Bush said at a news conference during his trip to Africa. "They’re the ones who suffered under Fidel Castro. They’re the ones who were put in prison because of their beliefs. They’re the ones who have been denied their right to live in a free society. So I view this as a period of transition and it should be the beginning of the democratic transition in Cuba."
Change from military
Ulises Colina, a 65-year-old electrical technician, said he was not certain if the resignation would bring any change. "I think it was a foregone conclusion that his political career would be over soon," Colina said.
Colina theorized that any change in Cuba would have to come from within the military.
"Changes? Well, he’s the leader of the gang but he has a bunch of auxiliary gang members who don’t want to see change," Colina said.
At a popular Cuban restaurant farther from Little Havana, the sentiments were similar.
"Even though this is great news for Cubans and for me personally, but I don’t think anything is going to change," said Jose Miranda, 46. "Last time I was here was when the news said that he was really sick and we thought that he was dead. And look what has happened. Nothing."
A U.S. senator whose parents were Cuban, Robert Menendez, echoed Miranda’s comments.
"This Castro is the same as the other in terms of philosophy, having been part of a dictatorship," said Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.
"To just embrace Raul would be a huge mistake. All we’d be doing is embracing another dictator," Menendez added.