There is an emerging line coming out of those who favor normalization of relations with Cuba: that Tuesday’s communist party announcement that Fidel Castro will resign from leadership represents real “change” that the United States must capitalize on. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) told the USA Today: “This leadership change is an opportunity to move our strategy into this century.” Florida Democrat Joe Garcie echoed a similar sentiment: “Clearly something happened in Cuba. Without question, it represents an opportunity for change.”

These hopeful sentiments ignore the facts coming out of Cuba. Yesterday’s announcement was just the latest phase in a phony transition of power that began over a year and a half ago when Fidel announced a “temporary transfer” of power to his brother Raul. Raul has commanded the Cuban Armed Forces since 1959 and the intelligence services since 1989. The human rights situation has not improved in the country at all since the March 2003 crack down on a peaceful opposition that saw 75 human rights activists and journalists jailed.

Cuba’s economy is still a centrally planned disaster that only provides enough food rations to its people for 10 days of the month. Cubans must find the rest of their sustenance on the black market and by Cuba’s own analysis at least 15% of Cuba’s population is at severe nutritional risk. Since taking over in 2006 Raul has done nothing to change these socialist policies except for facilitating huge investments by Canadian and European resort developers.

It its far too soon to talk of lifting the embargo. If Raul wishes to show he is interested in real change he should release all of the prisoners of conscience jailed in 2003, free the domestic media, and grant Cubans access to both the internet and outside media.

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