WASHINGTON — The four major presidential candidates sounded similar notes Tuesday upon news of Fidel Castro's announced resignation: All four welcomed it, but said it was far from the real change that Cuba needs.
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton said Cuba's new leaders "face a stark choice: Continue with the failed policies of the past that have stifled democratic freedoms and stunted economic growth, or take a historic step to bring Cuba into the community of democratic nations. The people of Cuba want to seize this opportunity for real change and so must we."
Clinton called for the Cuban government to "release political prisoners and to take serious steps towards democracy that give their people a real voice in their government." She said the U.S. should "pursue an active policy that does everything possible to advance the cause of freedom, democracy and opportunity in Cuba." Clinton did not specify what "everything possible" means.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama called Castro's resignation "sadly insufficient in bringing freedom to Cuba" and said he would meet steps toward democracy with preparations to begin normalizing relations and to "ease the embargo of the last five decades." He too called for releasing political prisoners.
That's a tougher note than what Obama sounded last August, when he wrote an op-ed article for The Miami Herald in which he proposed lifting travel restrictions for families and allowing money to be sent back to family members in Cuba, both of which would have slightly eased the embargo.
For the Republicans, Arizona Sen. John McCain called Castro's resignation an event "nearly a half century overdue" that provides an opportunity for freedom in Cuba.
"We must press the Cuban regime to release all political prisoners unconditionally, to legalize all political parties, labor unions and free media, and to schedule internationally monitored elections," McCain said.
McCain added a harder note: "America can and should help hasten the sparking of freedom in Cuba. The Cuban people have waited long enough." But, like Clinton, he did not give specifics.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee called for "free and fair elections" because "simply providing more power to another dictator does nothing to promote freedom and democracy to the Cuban people."
Huckabee was the only candidate who didn't specifically call for the release of political prisoners.
(Warren Strobel contributed to this report.)