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US Official Says No Meaningful Change Under Way in Cuba

The Bush administration says Cuba remains a repressive state despite the transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his brother, Raul. VOA's Michael Bowman reports form Washington, where a high-ranking Cuban-American official of the Bush administration is drawing attention to the plight of political prisoners on the communist-run island.

Since taking the reins of power in Cuba, President Raul Castro has made headlines by allowing ordinary citizens to purchase cellular phones and personal computers. Some analysts see the moves as evidence that Raul Castro is more reform-minded than his older brother, and that over time Cuba may gravitate away from the communist orthodoxy that has gripped the island for nearly five decades.

But the Bush administration says it sees no evidence of meaningful change on the island. Cuban-born U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez spoke on CNN's Late Edition program.

"Everything we hear is that it is the same exact repression, fear, brutality that has existed over 49 years,” said Carlos Gutierrez. “We believe the people deserve to know, and we believe that the political prisoners in those dungeons deserve to know that the international community is paying attention to them."

Gutierrez said several hundred Cubans remain imprisoned for having criticized the government, and that the conditions of their incarceration are deplorable. He said this Wednesday will be a day of what he termed "international solidarity with Cuba" to focus the world's attention on the prisoners' plight.

The Cuban government maintains that many of the island's political prisoners are, in fact, counterrevolutionaries acting as agents of the United States in an attempt to subvert and overthrow Cuba's communist system. The government has long maintained that many of the hardships its citizens endure are the result of the long-standing U.S. trade embargo of Cuba, a charge U.S. officials reject.

In recent years, the United States has loosened the embargo to allow cash sales of food and medicine to the island.