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Castro exit unlikely to thaw U.S.-Cuba relations

The State Department said Tuesday that Castro's departure won't lead to a change in policy or the lifting of the embargo.

By Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor, Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / February 20, 2008



WASHINGTON

Fidel Castro's announcement that he would neither seek, nor accept, another term as president of Cuba is not expected to have an immediate impact on US policy toward the communist island-state.

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Rather, the announcement is viewed as a continuation of a transition of power orchestrated by Mr. Castro himself. Analysts expect his brother, Raúl Castro, to be named president of Cuba on Sunday when the party meets to select the State Council and president.

In terms of US-Cuban relations, analysts say, the developments in Cuba fail to satisfy several conditions set by the Bush administration for improved ties. Washington has maintained an economic embargo for 46 years, and President Bush has refused to consider lifting the embargo or otherwise improving relations as long as Fidel Castro, or Raúl Castro, holds the reins of power.

In comments from Rwanda, Mr. Bush repeated his administration's conditions for improved ties to Cuba. "I view this as a period of transition," he told reporters. "It should be the beginning of the democratic transition for the people in Cuba."

Bush said the Cuban government should mark the current transition by releasing political prisoners and by building democratic institutions within Cuba.

John Negroponte, deputy secretary of State, told reporters that Fidel Castro's announcement would not prompt a change in US policy and a lifting of the trade embargo. "I can't imagine that happening any time soon," he said.

Foreign-policy analysts agree. "This will have very little effect on US policy since the Bush administration has made it clear that it won't deal with any Cuban government led by either Fidel or Raúl," says Wayne Smith, director of the Cuba Program at the Center for International Policy in Washington.

"However ... Raúl has indicated he is open to dialogue with the United States; this could lead to some change under a new US administration," he says.

Peter DeShazo, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says he does not expect any substantial policy change in Washington.

"The administration's policy has been, Cuba should be democratic," Mr. DeShazo says. "The administration has already said, if it's Raúl, or Fidel, it's still the same administration."

But he adds that there are potential openings now. "Raúl Castro has been in de facto control of the country since July 2006, and really controls all the levers of power," DeShazo says. "The real change here is that it gives him still greater legitimacy for making reforms, making change, and I would expect those changes to come in the economic area and not in the political area."

Reaction from Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, the heart of the US Cuban exile community, was muted.

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