Cindy Domingo was not surprised by Tuesday's announcement that Fidel Castro was stepping down after nearly 50 years in office. "The transition has already...

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Cindy Domingo was not surprised by Tuesday’s announcement that Fidel Castro was stepping down after nearly 50 years in office.

“The transition has already happened. It happened when he was sick,” said Domingo, who has visited Cuba 14 times, primarily as a leader of delegations of women.

Domingo, an aide to King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, doesn’t think a new regime will ease relations between the United States and Cuba and open the country to American tourists.

“The Cuban people are pretty adamant that they want their independence and don’t want the U.S. to intervene in affairs of their country,” Domingo said. “We need a new Democratic administration to reopen relations with the Cuban government.”

“Fidel stepping down is not enough.”

Jim Diers, former head of the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods who now teaches at the University of Washington, went to Cuba in 1999 as part of an exchange with Havana’s Department of Agriculture in which a Cuban delegation also visited Seattle.

Diers said he has mixed feelings about the prospect of Cuba opening to Americans.

“Part of what’s special about Cuba is it’s so close to America yet so absolutely different,” Diers said. “It’s very much its own culture, and I worry about opening it up.

“If you want to change Cuba, allow a lot of Americans in.”

More than 40 Washington state women, led by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., went to Cuba in 2002 to explore the political, social and economic structure of the country. Many met Castro.

The trip was arranged by the University of Washington’s Center for Women & Democracy and included leaders in the state’s political, technological, business, health-care, transportation and educational arenas.

Political consultant Cathy Allen went on the advance trip in which the meeting was set up. Allen said she was struck by the friendliness of the Cuban people.

“People opened up their doors,” she said. “We didn’t feel we were put upon or there were people we couldn’t talk to.”

Hearing Tuesday that Castro had stepped down, Allen said, “for those of us who have been curious enough about Cuba to want to get there … it doesn’t strike me so much as a physical benchmark as a psychological one.”

The trip coincided with Cuba opening its doors to Washington state apples and peas. When the first shipment of apples landed in Cuba in July 2002, it was the first shipment of its kind in 42 years.

State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz, a former Metropolitan King County Council member, proposed in 2002 that King County forge a sister-city relationship with a province in Cuba. The idea did not gain support among the council.

Pelz said he doesn’t know what will happen now, with Castro stepping down.

“Everyone realized that when Castro exited it would be a very traumatic moment,” said Pelz, who has visited Cuba.

“Cubans needed us as a boogeyman, and the U.S. needs Fidel as a boogeyman.”

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com