MIAMI - Cuban exiles in Little Havana welcomed Tuesday's news that Cuban President Fidel Castro had officially resigned power, but most in the heart of the Cuban exile community weren't optimistic the move would bring major changes or democracy to the communist nation.
As news of the resignation spread, motorists honked vigorously at police patrol cars and television reporters. Shouts of "Free Cuba!" echoed in the streets, and small groups gathered to chat in local eateries. But there was no widespread celebration, just caution.
"I hope this is the beginning of the end of the system, but we have to wait," said 35-year-old chemist Omar Fernandez, who left Cuba for the U.S. six years ago.
Repeated rumors of Castro's death over the years helped prepare residents and officials for a day that all knew would eventually come. The community's reactions so far were calm, peaceful and not as boisterous as when thousands took to the streets after Castro temporarily handed power to his brother Raul in July 2006.
Most exiles view Castro as a ruthless dictator who forced them, their parents or grandparents from their home after he seized power in a revolution in 1959. Police said they were "keeping a sharp eye" on Little Havana, but residents weren't gathering in large numbers to celebrate. Nothing indicated a need for increased patrols off Florida or that a mass migration was imminent, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil.
Ulises Colina, a 65-year-old electrical technician, said he was not certain if the resignation would bring any change. "I think it was a foregone conclusion that his political career would be over soon," Colina said.
Colina theorized that any change in Cuba would have to come from within the military.
"Changes? Well, he's the leader of the gang but he has a bunch of auxiliary gang members who don't want to see change," Colina said.
At a popular Cuban restaurant farther from Little Havana, the sentiments were similar.
"Even though this is great news for Cubans and for me personally, but I don't think anything is going to change," said Jose Miranda, 46. "Last time I was here was when the news said that he was really sick and we thought that he was dead. And look what has happened. Nothing."
About 1.5 million Cubans and Cuban-Americans live in the U.S., two-thirds of them in Florida, and the majority in Miami-Dade County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Since they began arriving, the Miami area has become a mostly Hispanic, bustling city that is a hub for international trade and finance, but also deals with poverty. What was once a city marked by Southern drawls in English transformed into a place where Spanish is spoken everywhere.
The first wave of Cubans who fled the island immediately after Castro took power, often sending their children ahead of them on so-called "Peter Pan" flights, generally support the most hardline U.S. policies toward the island. With waning family ties to the island, they are among the most vocal backers of the U.S. embargo.
The views of the successive waves of Cuban immigrants are more complicated. Those who came over since 1980 are more likely to have grown up under the Castro government and still have family on the island. They chafe under the Bush administration's 2004 restrictions, which limit the money that can be sent home as well restrict island visits to once every three years for immediate relatives only.
Cuba experts in the U.S. didn't expect any immediate changes, or for Castro to completely disappear from view.
"For Cuban-Americans it doesn't mean a whole big deal. It's the continuation with a different face," said Andy Gomez of the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies.
Joe Garcia, former executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation and now a Democratic candidate for Congress, cautioned that it was unlikely there would be any immediate political openings in Cuba.
"Today Castro announces the end of the revolution. That doesn't mean it's all over, but that means it allows people to finally begin to move beyond," he said.
Will Cuba really have a Democratic transition like GW hopes..... We'll just have to wait & see.