Cuban-Americans react to Castro's resignation

February 19, 2008 11:24:00 AM PST
In between sips of cafe con leche and bites of ropa vieja, Cuban-Americans expressed skepticism about how life in Cuba would change now that Fidel Castro has resigned.

Tuesday's news dominated conversations at the tables of El Artesano, a family owned restaurant in the heart of Union City, part of a northern New Jersey area that has the nation's largest concentration of Cuban-Americans after Miami.

"In my opinion, there's not going to be a change; it's one dictator for the next," said Frank Corbato, 48, a truck driver born in Havana who lives in nearby North Bergen. Corbato said he doesn't expect life for his relatives in Cuba to be much different.

Castro's brother Raul has been acting president and is poised to be chosen as president on Sunday.

"In my opinion, there's not going to be a change; it's one dictator for the next," said Frank Corbato, 48, a truck driver born in Havana who lives in nearby North Bergen. "Wait a little bit and see if change comes," he said.

Others, like Jose C. Perez, are hopeful, but don't expect much. "Hopefully it's one step closer to democracy in Cuba," said Perez, a contractor in Miami who was visiting his father in Union City. He was born in Havana and moved to the U.S. 43 years ago His brother, Rafael, also visiting from Miami, said he doesn't think Raul Castro will last very long, that people in Cuba will demand change.

Felix Alfonso has been hearing the chatter all day since El Artisano opened at 6 a.m.

"People are showing optimism," said Alfonso, who was born in Matanza and came to the U.S. at age 4, but added, "the regime is still in place."

New Jersey's two Cuban-American congressmen expressed a similar sentiment; they expect little to change immediately, but are hopeful that democracy will prevail in the near future.

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez - the former mayor of Union City who was born to Cuban parents - said Fidel Castro's resignation should not be mistaken for regime change.

"To just embrace Raul would be a huge mistake. All we'd be doing is embracing another dictator," said Menendez, who is opposed to any change to the U.S. embargo on Cuba. "This Castro is the same as the other in terms of philosophy, having been part of a dictatorship," Menendez said.

"Raul does not have the same relationship with the Cuban people as Fidel had. He has more blood on his hands than Fidel has.

"In that respect, it is not a change we would love to see," he said. "It's an opportunity for the U.S. and the world to challenge Raul, an opportunity to move in a different way."

Cuban-born Rep. Albio Sires - the former mayor of West New York, part of the Cuban-American enclave, said he hoped the departure of Fidel Castro will lead to democratic reform in Cuba, but was also skeptical about how soon that would happen.

"The Cuban people will be disappointed if change doesn't come out of this," Sires said. About 1.5 million Cubans and Cuban-Americans live in the U.S.


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