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US Embargo Against Cuba to Remain Despite Castro Resignation

The United States said Tuesday there will be no early end to the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, despite Fidel Castro's resignation as head of state after 49 years. U.S. officials do not see Raul Castro, the retiring president's brother and political heir, as an agent of change. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

President Bush expressed hope, in comments in Rwanda, that the retirement of Fidel Castro will mark the beginning of a democratic transition in Cuba.

However, officials here say they see no sign that Raul Castro, who has effectively run Cuba for nearly two years, is ready to end communist rule, and as such no major change in U.S. Cuba policy is expected.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, at a photo opportunity with Adriatic defense ministers, said he cannot imagine a change in the decades-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba occurring anytime time soon.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the United States remains ready to materially-assist a real democratic transition in Cuba, but that Raul Castro has given no indication that he is ready to facilitate change.

"The general analysis is that Raul Castro is 'Fidel light.' He is simply a continuation of the Castro regime, of the dictatorship. Certainly whatever is going on the ground in Cuba now, one thing is clear: you still have people in prison simply for expressing views. You still have a closed political system in which one party runs everything and controls everything, and you still have Raul Castro, as far as I know, believing that that's the system that ought to be upheld," he said.

Casey, dismissing the notion that Raul Castro is less rigid than his brother, said the United States would "love to be pleasantly surprised" and see him walk away from 50 years of dictatorship. However he said U.S. officials see no indication that this is where those in power in Havana are heading.

In his Rwanda comments, President Bush urged the release of Cuban political prisoners and said a political transition there should lead to free elections.

A commission Mr. Bush created in 2003 recommended a series of steps to promote the emergence of Cuba democracy, including stepped-up U.S. broadcasting to the island and support for non-governmental institutions. It pledged large-scale U.S. humanitarian aid for a transitional Cuban government.