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Businesses: Little will change soon in Cuba
South Florida business owners didn't get very excited about Fidel Castro's decision to give up power.

Waking to overcast skies and some of the most dramatic political news out of Cuba in nearly half a century, South Florida's business community reacted with a collective shrug.

As word spread Tuesday that an ailing Fidel Castro would not vie for the presidency of the Council of State, business leaders said the expected Cuban power shuffle is unlikely to bring immediate changes -- if any at all. For most, that meant business as usual.

Miami charters to the island were flying on schedule, phone traffic to Cuba was reportedly normal, and in the exile-rich heart of Hialeah, Jesús Ovidez was in the back of his Chico's Restaurant counting cash like he would on any rainy week day.

''What's to celebrate?'' asked Ovidez, who fled Cuba 40 years ago. ``While his brother Raúl is in power, nothing changes.''

The reaction was a marked shift from July 2006, when news that Castro was temporarily handing over power to Raúl sparked a wave of interest and hopes for renewed business activity with the island, said John Kavulich, senior policy analyst at the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council in New York.

''This time I haven't had a single company executive call me, as opposed to 18 months ago, when they were calling asking what to do,'' he said.

Kavulich said he thinks the business community has learned a few things about Cuban reality over the past several months. ''It's another moment in the series of moments that is Cuba,'' he said.

Locally, Akerman Senterfitt lawyer Pedro Freyre wasn't getting many calls either, but he said the firm continues to work with clients interested in doing business on the island some day.

''The reality is, we need to look at this in a very dispassionate way,'' said Freyre, who is also on the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Cuba committee. ``As far as U.S. policy and law, this is a nonevent.''

Meanwhile, over at Chico's, Ovidez said there were no plans to mark the occasion and that none of his 63 employees had suggested taking the day off.

Two downtown Hialeah nightclubs said they were not expecting a week-night rush of merrymakers and local restaurants said business was normal. Owners of the nearby Botanica Fransico y Ochun, which supplies potions and statues to the Cuban santero community, said it had received no special orders.

Some investors have been waiting decades for political changes in Cuba that might open up lucrative sectors such as oil and gas, housing and tourism. But with the embargo still firmly in place and Cuba's political future in doubt, the wait continues.

While Raúl Castro -- often mentioned as Fidel's most likely successor -- has suggested that he's amenable to Chinese-style economic reforms, Leo Guzman, president of Guzman & Co., a Miami-based investment banking firm, said such changes are unlikely as long as his older brother is alive.

''Obviously, [Fidel Castro's] health is not very good. But as long as he's alive, he will be a force to contend with,'' Guzman said. ``This is just the beginning of the end, and the beginning might take a long time.''

While Castro rumors usually sprint through South Florida's exile community, Tuesday's announcement seemed to limp along as people went about earning a living. ''What are you talking about?'' asked an employee at Va Cuba, a freight forwarder that sends food and medicine to families on the island. ``I've been talking to people all day and nobody told me anything about Fidel.''

One reason may be that many have mixed feelings, said Raul Caballero, 37, who owns Lourdes Dollar Discount Store at 2955 W. 12th Ave. in Hialeah.

Caballero said that ever since his parents brought him here as a toddler, his family has been waiting for the right moment to celebrate -- but Tuesday wasn't the day. ''You can't be happy that a gentleman like Castro, who has committed so many atrocities, can just drift into retirement,'' he said. ``We're still waiting for real changes.''

Martha Brannigan, Monica Hatcher and Ina Paiva Cordle contributed to this report.