In U.S., Cuban Exiles Unmoved

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In U.S., Cuban Exiles Unmoved - 02/20/08 04:42 AM

Cuban exiles in the United States reacted coolly on Tuesday to the overnight news that Fidel Castro was resigning the presidency of Cuba, an island he has ruled with an iron fist for almost 50 years.

With Mr. Castro’s younger brother Raúl, who has been running the country for a year and a half, seen as most likely to succeed him, many said they expect the system of communist central control to continue unchanged.

Modest crowds gathered under gloomy skies in Miami’s Little Havana district, to the west of the main downtown core, but the excitement level was limited. Some Cuban flags were displayed, and signs saying “No Castro, No Problem” were waved.

Virgilio Hernandez, 67, who came to the United States from Cuba as a child, said: “Castro is known in all parts of the world as a horrible man. But the manipulation will continue under Raúl. Things will not change until we have a real election.”

People on the scene said the celebration at the end of July 2006, when Fidel Castro announced that said illness was forcing him to turn over day-to-day leadership of the country to Raúl Castro, were larger because the action seemed to signal Fidel Castro’s imminent demise.

Some Cuban exiles in Miami said on Tuesday that any real change would have to come within the country’s military, which Raúl Castro has commanded for decades. Even without Fidel Castro, one man said, there are a “bunch of auxiliary gang members who don’t want to see change.”

Responses in the Cuban community in Hudson County, N.J., were similarly restrained. “It was about time for him to step down,” said Orencio Fernandez, 64, while speaking to people in a bakery on Bergenline Avenue in West New York, N.J. “But he’s not dead yet. Things will change in Cuba when he dies and his brother dies, because the brother will carry on the same way.”

Mr. Fernandez, who lives in nearby North Bergen, said he heard about Fidel Castro in a news broadcast and went to the Web site of the Communist party newspaper in Cuba to print out the announcement. He was showing it to people as they came into the bakery.

A. R. Fernandez, a printer who left Cuba in 1960, looked at it and said: “It will continue. The brother took power. The older generation is still in power.”

Representative Albio Sires, Democrat of New Jersey, who once was mayor of West New York, said, “The first thing that struck me is, obviously, he is very ill, otherwise he would not have surrendered the reins after 50 years.”

With Fidel Castro out of the picture, Mr. Sires said, “I’m hoping that this leads to democracy in Cuba — that Raúl will start making moves in areas of freedom of the press, release of political prisoners and in terms of setting up elections.”

“The people of Cuba have been very patient the last 18 months” since Fidel Castro first relinquished power, he said. “I think the people of Cuba want change.” Mr. Sires was 10 years old when his family fled Cuba in 1962 with the help of relatives.

Senators John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who are running for president, issued separate calls for the release of political prisoners in Cuba.

“Fidel Castro’s stepping down is an essential first step, but it is sadly insufficient in bringing freedom to Cuba,” Mr. Obama, Democrat of Illinois, said in his statement. “Cuba’s future should be determined by the Cuban people and not by an anti-democratic successor regime. The prompt release of prisoners on conscience wrongly jailed for standing up for the basic freedoms too long denied to the Cuban people would mark an important break with the past.”

Senator McCain, Republican of Arizona, said that despite Mr. Castro’s action, “freedom for Cuba is not yet at hand.”

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