Castro's resignation sparks optimism, skepticism in WC

Cuban-Americans in Westchester and the Hudson Valley expressed cautious optimism Tuesday following the resignation of Fidel Castro as president of Cuba.

The ailing 81-year-old Castro resigned as Cuba's president Tuesday after nearly a half-century in power, saying he will not accept a new term when parliament meets Sunday.

The end of Castro's rule - the longest in the world for a head of government - frees his 76-year-old brother Raul to implement reforms he has hinted at since taking over as acting president when Fidel Castro fell ill in July 2006.

"My wishes have always been to discharge my duties to my last breath," Castro wrote in a letter published Tuesday in the online edition of the Communist Party daily Granma. But, he wrote, "it would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer."

Cuban-Americans in Westchester and the Hudson Valley hope Castro's resignation signals the start of change in the country.

Yonkers restaurant owner Alex Cheblal hopes the resignation is the start of a major change. Cheblal is French, but his wife is from Cuba. He believes the turn of events is the start of something historical.

"They're waiting for something, but the communists are so predominant," says Cheblal. "It's like this way or no way ? people don't really have a choice."

U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, of Florida, who was born in Cuba, also hopes the resignation leads to democracy.

"The Cuban people, after 50 years of dictatorship, deserve the right to elect their leaders, deserve the opportunity to speak freely about how they want their future to go," says Sen. Martinez. "They don't need rigged, faked elections. They need real democracy."

However, the news of Castro's resignation has also been met with skepticism. One group that's not exactly celebrating is the U.S. government, which has stated it will not immediately change its policies toward Cuba. The Bush administration has even called Raul Castro a "dictator-lite."

Associated Press wire reports contributed to this story.

Additional CNN coverage of Castro's resignation

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