After meeting Castro, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told reporters that it was time to move on from the U.S. “Cold War mentality” toward Cuba.
The State Department was publicly resistant Monday to calls for a softening of the U.S. stance toward Cuba, with a spokesman bluntly dismissing Raul Castro’s promise to step down as not “a fundamental change” for Cuba because it lacked concrete measures toward democratic rule.
“We remain hopeful for the day that the Cuban people get democracy, when they can have the opportunity to freely pick their own leaders in an open democratic process and enjoy the freedoms of speech and association without fear of reprisal,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters Monday. “We’re clearly not there yet.”
In the 35-minute speech he gave when he was ratified for a second term as president, Raul Castro made clear that he had no intention of moving away from his socialist roots.
“I was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba. I was elected to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism, not destroy it,” Castro told Parliament, according to a translation published in news reports.
That message is why longtime Cuba observers find it hard to swallow that such an entrenched regime would willingly push reforms that could hasten the demise of Communist Party rule. Critics say Cubans are less likely to see a shift in U.S. policy than a rise in domestic unrest that forces change from within as Cubans grow impatient for promised reforms.
“It’s political kabuki and I’m not sure it can hold together for another five years,” said Jason Poblete, a Cuban-American attorney in Washington and an outspoken critic of the Castro regime.