Resignation is no relief

Cuban immigrants say change, if it ever happens, will come slowly.

By Saundra Amrhein, Times Staff Writer
Published February 20, 2008

TAMPA - Many of them waited much of their lives for this day.

But when word spread Tuesday that Cuban leader Fidel Castro no longer ruled the island nation, some Cuban immigrants rolled their eyes.

"There's not going to be change there," Tampa resident Danilo Izquierdo, 71, said in Spanish after he parked to buy a lottery ticket at a convenience store on Columbus Drive.

Izquierdo heard the news about Castro's resignation from friends during his morning walk at Al Lopez Park. The retired factory worker immigrated to Tampa from Cuba in 1969.

"The day he dies is when things will change in Cuba," he said.

His feelings echoed opinions of other Cubans who arrived with later waves of immigrants.

But some Cubans said they were cautiously optimistic that Castro's retirement would lead to slow economic change by Castro's brother Raul.

"He is going to look to do business with the United States, one way or another," said Jose Acevedo, 43, of Tampa, gathering with friends near the Florida Bakery.

"While Fidel is alive, out of respect for his brother, he's going to do it slowly," said Acevedo, who arrived on a raft in 1996.

Some Cuban-Americans like Rolando Lahera of St. Petersburg said fixing Cuba's economy would lead to other reforms.

"People need a better life," said Lahera, 59, who left Cuba when he was 22. "Maybe later ... people will have the possibility of thinking about political change."

Ralph Fernandez, a Tampa lawyer who has represented former political prisoners, welcomed the news as "baby steps" toward change, calling Castro the "single greatest impediment to ever having relations with Cuba and the Cuban people."

Though he had hoped Castro would have left power another way, he was happy to see the ailing dictator sidelined.

"I would have preferred to see him leave horizontally," Fernandez said. "But it looks like I'm going to see him leave slightly vertical."

Times staff writer Jose Cardenas contributed to this report. Saundra Amrhein can be reached at amrhein@sptimes.com or 813 661-2441.