MIAMI (AP) – It was the cherished dream Cuban exiles carried in their hearts for decades: Fidel Castro would die in power, freedom would return to their homeland, and there would be dancing in the streets of Miami.

But when the dictator’s departure from office finally came to pass Tuesday, it wasn’t the way the exiles imagined it at all. Reality was far less exciting.

In Miami’s Little Havana and the heavily Cuban suburb of Hialeah, there was little celebration – and little hope that democracy is at hand in Cuba – after the ailing, 81-year-old president resigned as part of a measured withdrawal from power that began a year and a half ago.

“People are saying that all of this is a sham,” 25-year-old Osiel Diegues said at the Hialeah barbershop where he works. “As long as Fidel is alive, and as long as communism remains, nothing will change.”

“I never thought he was going to resign. I didn’t think this was going to be the way it happened. Sudden death, something, a coup d’etat, an attempt on his life, his own people taking over, something different,” said Tony Alfonso, 70, who said he spent 10 years in a Cuban jail as a political prisoner.

Tuesday’s reaction contrasted with the three-day street party in Little Havana in July 2006, when Castro temporarily ceded power to his brother Raul because of a severe stomach ailment.

Then, there were thousands of people banging drums and chanting.

But little has changed on the communist island under Raul Castro. That has frustrated many of the nearly 1 million Cubans and Cuban-Americans who live in Miami-Dade County.

Most exiles view Castro as a ruthless dictator who forced them from their homes after he seized power in 1959.

But newer arrivals and second-generation Cuban-Americans are less likely to agree the U.S. embargo against Cuba has been an effective tool.

And many with family still on the island chafe under Bush administration policies that limit the amount of money they can send home and restrict their visits to once every three years.

Some hearing the news were still excited.

“What joy,” said Alicia Gonzalez, 74, sitting at a cafeteria table in Hialeah and waiting for the rain to stop so that she could buy ingredients to make Cuban-style tamales for her grandson. “I’m joyous because it’s a move toward some escape, a solution, though he may not be dead.”

Gonzalez arrived in the U.S. in the Mariel boatlift in 1980, when 125,000 people fled the island after Castro temporarily opened the island.

Despite her excitement, she said serious change is unlikely under Raul Castro.

“There’s no difference,” she said. “Why? Because people are used to the system. There could be a succession, but it will take time.”

The reaction was similar in 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.

Even as Raul Castro has given some signs of change – calling for improved relations with the U.S. and suggesting the country turn to ethanol – his older brother has undermined him, writing opinion pieces that counter the proposals.

Carlos Saladrigas, co-chairman of the business-backed Cuba Study Group, said he is cautiously optimistic that Raul Castro will now be able to move forward with more changes.

“The door has just opened. And I believe we’re going to see from Cuba very significant changes over the next few months, probably opening up the economy significantly,” he said.

Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, who left Cuba as a boy, hopes eventually to see the release of political prisoners and the restoration of human rights, and said perhaps the news will give strength to the dissident movement. But he cautioned: “The fact is the oppression in Cuba today is the worst its been in years.”



Associated Press Writers Damian Grass, Adrian Sainz and Matt Sedensky contributed to this report.


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