WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is watching closely Tuesday events in Cuba, one day after Fidel Castro's spokesman announced that the dictator turned over temporary authority of the government to his brother Raul while he underwent surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding.
But the United States isn't making any gestures yet.
"What's going on is that a lot of people are asking questions that are premised on the death of somebody who's not dead. And so I'm just not going to get there yet," said White House spokesman Tony Snow.
Snow said that includes the United States not reaching out to the titular leader of Cuba.
"Raul Castro's attempt to impose himself on the Cuban people is much the same as what his brother did. So, no, there are no plans to reach out," he said. "For the dictator, Fidel Castro, to hand off power to his brother, who's been the prison-keeper, is not a change in that status."
As you know, a few weeks ago, there was another report from the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba where we talked about a number of things, including a compact with the people of Cuba for the day in which they no longer live under the boot of tyranny. And 14:58:09we will be ready and eager to provide humanitarian, economic and other aid to the people of Cuba.
Earlier in the day, the State Department withheld any judgment about the news.
"Look, clearly, Fidel Castro's incapacitation or death would be a significant event for the Cuban people," spokesman Sean McCormack said. "We fully support a democratic, free, prosperous Cuba in which the Cuban people have the opportunity to, through the ballot box, choose who will lead them, not have their leaders imposed upon themBut others were less reserved about their opinions of Castro."
But others were less reserved about their opinions of Castro.
"Fidel Castro has only brought ruin and misery to Cuba so if he is incapacitated, even for a short period of time, it is a marvelous moment for the millions of Cubans who live under his iron-fisted rule and oppressive state machinery," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a member of the House International Relations Committee who has long opposed Castro. "I hope this is the beginning of the end for his despised regime."
"I was listening to the reports, and it's true that they're saying that, well, he may have suffered this because of the stress. It must be very stressful murdering your own people and oppressing your own people," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who is of Cuban descent, told FOX News.
"But the reality is that, look, whether he dies because of this or he survives a little bit longer, what is the case — and everybody needs to realize — is that that regime's days are numbered. They are clearly numbered," he said.
Miami's Cuban exile community was celebrating Tuesday outside Versailles restaurant in Little Havana, the same place President Bush addressed Cuban-American business leaders on Monday.
During his trip to Florida to extol the U.S. economy, Bush spoke of a Cuba without Castro, but his words never seemed more prescient.
"If Fidel Castro were to move on because of natural causes, we've got a plan in place to help the people of Cuba understand there's a better way than the system in which they've been living under," he told WAQI-AM Radio Mambi, a Spanish-language radio station. "No one knows when Fidel Castro will move on. In my judgment, that's the work of the Almighty."
The United States has not been shy that it's official policy is to "undermine" any succession by Raul Castro, 75, or other successors to the authoritarian seat of power his brother has held for 47 years.
The Bush administration has a newly updated plan in place that calls for Cuban citizens and members of other nations to demand a new, free government after Castro dies. Released last month by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, the report, first developed in 2003, recommends that the United States spend $80 million for two years on food and other aid to Cuba to encourage multi-party elections, free markets and democratic institutions.
Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., formerly Bush's Housing and Urban Development Secretary, said the commission was formed after Bush asked him about U.S. preparedness for Cuba following Castro's death. Martinez said he responded that he thought more could be done by the United States.
Martinez, who came to the United States when he was 15 as part of "Operation Pedro Pan," a humanitarian program that helped Cuban children escape the communist nation, said the government does have money budgeted to institute the president's plan when the time comes.
He said he also thinks that new legislation could also be enacted by Congress at a moment's notice to direct government assistance toward helping Cuba become a democracy.
But Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said he was worried that the Bush administration would follow a hands-off approach that would miss the opportunity for a transition to democracy.
"When it comes to the conduct of foreign policy, [the Bush administration] seems to have a policy of sort of stand back and watch things unfold, instead of getting involved," Dodd said. "My hope would be the administration is working with allies and others to prepare for that easy transition than might otherwise occur.
At the time the 95-page commission report was released three weeks ago, Bush said, "We are actively working for change in Cuba, not simply waiting for change."
Diaz-Balart said he suspects it won't be too hard to install a new form of government on the island nation.
"Like Fidel, who's a decrepit, senile, old terrorist, his brother is also a decrepit, old, senile terrorist, but add to that the fact that he's an alcoholic. I do not think that Raul could hold on for any length of time. I'm convinced that as soon as Fidel Castro is dead, that regime will dissolve. ... So as soon as that corpse is just lukewarm, you're going to see things changing rather dramatically," he said.
Cuba has been under a U.S. financial embargo since 1961, two years after the Castro came to power with the ousting of then-President Fulgencio Batista. While two objectives of the presidential commission are to assist the Cuban people in a transition to representative democracy and establishment of a free market economy, one of its precautionary measures is to make sure an exodus from Cuba to the United States doesn't occur, Martinez said.
"I think the United States government has a plan to prevent a mass migration or mass boat traffic in either direction on the Florida Straits, which would be very dangerous and something that should not take place," Martinez said, adding, "I think that the Coast Guard and the United States Navy both have a role to play in ensuring that there is no mass migration."
Another concern is that democracy emerges without violence.
"My hope for the future of Cuba as it transitions is that it would be in the mode of the Eastern Europeans, where they were able to do this in a way that did not involve bloodshed. And so I would hope that the Cuban armed forces would use restraint," he said.
The commission proposes aid for "preparing the Cuban military forces to adjust to an appropriate role in a democracy." Cuba's National Information Agency has called that a "new plan of aggression."
Cuba has disclosed little about the dictator's circumstances beyond Monday's statement about Castro's operation. Castro, who took control of Cuba in 1959, resisted repeated U.S. attempts to oust him and survived communism's demise elsewhere. He has held an iron hand over his country through 10 U.S. administrations. Castro turns 80 on Aug. 13.
FOX News' Orlando Salinas and Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.