Castro's transfer of power to his brother – for now – speeds plans for a new era.
The provisional transfer of power in Cuba from Fidel Castro to his brother, Raul, is not expected to result in any immediate easing of communist control of the island nation.
But it has accelerated planning by Cuban exiles and others for a post-Castro Cuba. And it is raising concerns about whether the emerging transition in Cuba will remain peaceful or turn violent.
The announcement on Cuban television that Mr. Castro was about to undergo surgery and had temporarily turned over control of the government to Defense Minister Raul Castro sparked jubilant celebrations in Miami. Hundreds of Cuban-Americans took to the streets in Hialeah and Little Havana Monday and Tuesday, waving Cuban flags, cheering, and dancing. They included three generations of Cuban-Americans, the original exiles from the early 1960s, their children, and their grandchildren.
"It has been 50 years of dictatorship, so Cubans in Miami and all over the world are excited about the possibility that finally there can be change," says Camila Ruiz-Gallardo of the Cuban American National Foundation. "There is a light at the end of the tunnel."
For many here it is a celebration of the potential demise of arch-enemy Fidel Castro, the embodiment of the 1959 revolution that seized private property, cracked down on political dissent, and caused hundreds of thousands to flee to the US – many in flimsy rafts.
Others are beginning to ponder the possibility of greater political and economic freedom in Cuba. Some are talking of potential business ties between Havana and Miami. Others are expressing hope of reuniting with relatives who remained behind.
But some analysts warn that Cuba's communist government may survive for many years under Raul Castro.
"We are going to have to wait and see what happens," says Frank Calzon of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington.
Political analysts say that Castro had long ago laid the groundwork for a transition to his brother. Raul is said to command the loyalty of the Cuban army and its internal security force. Although his revolutionary credentials are impeccable, Raul does not have the charisma of his older brother, they say. And it is unclear how internal loyalties may play out once Fidel is no longer in charge.
"We don't know exactly what is occurring," Sen. Mel Martinez (R) of Florida told reporters in Washington.