Cuba Libre? Not So Fast, Say the Candidates

By Catharine Skipp 

As news of the sudden resignation of Cuba’s President Fidel Castro rippled through Miami’s Little Havana overnight, it was not the ringing celebration of Cuba Libre in the streets that many had expected. So too from the presidential campaigns who were quick to point out that one Castro is no better than another as proven by the reign, to date, of Fidel’s brother, Raul, as acting head of state since July 2006. There has been little change to point to as the power shifted from one to the other. None of the presidential hopefuls felt that the resignation signaled any monumental shift in political direction for the island nation. The statements issued by each campaign and echoed in calls from senior policy advisors all similarly called for the release of political prisoners and reiterated that this ‘change’ is no change.

Randy Scheunemann, Sen. John McCain’s director of Foreign Policy and National Security said that the Cuban people have no more freedom or liberty today than they did yesterday; they are under the same repression from the same secret police today that have been used against them for generations. He says Sen. McCain has always advocated freedom for the Cuban people and continuing the embargo until there was real democratic change on the island. “I think it is a mistake to think there is going to be a real change in this government’s attitude as long the Castro brothers and the old guard remain in power.” McCain said the resignation is “nearly half a century overdue…Yet freedom for the Cuban people is not yet at hand, and the Castro brother’s clearly intend to maintain their grip on power.”

Sen. Barak Obama’s senior policy advisor, Tony Lake, said while Cuba is obviously undergoing a transition, it remains to be seen if there will be true change. “It is important that we have a dialogue to try to effect this because it will certainly not be the case that democracy will bloom overnight.” He said even though Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, has made some overtures about opening a dialog with the US, “Raul’s suggestions at reforms have been more on the economic side than on the political side.” Obama, said in a prepared statement: “Cuba’s future should be determined by the Cuban people and not by an anti-democratic successor regime…If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades."

The Clinton campaign issued a statement calling on the new leadership in Cuba to choose to “continue with the failed policies of the past that have stifled democratic freedoms and stunted economic growth-or take a historic step to bring Cuba into the community of democratic nations.”

While Fidel steps down as President and Commander-in-Chief, he retains his position as Secretary General of the Cuban Communist Party.