NEW YORK (AP) _ Cuba will only break with communism and open itself fully as a market economy once President Fidel Castro is no longer in power, three Cuban-American panelists agreed Wednesday.

``We've seen in 40 years that a transition is not possible with Castro in power,'' said Otto Reich, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela who left Cuba at age 14

Reich, now president of the U.S.-Cuba Business Council, said during a panel discussion sponsored by the nonprofit Americas Society that Cuba has enormous potential as a market once there is a change in the island's leadership.

A decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, many Cuban-Americans and U.S. businesses are still waiting for the island to undergo a similar transformation to a more democratic, capitalist society.

``Investment in a free Cuba could dwarf that of former Soviet-bloc countries,'' Reich predicted.

Cuba has struggled to stay afloat economically without sacrificing socialism since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Economic troubles in the early 1990s forced Cuba's leaders to legalize U.S. dollars and allow small, private businesses.

Another speaker, University of California, Santa Cruz, professor Manuel Pastor, Jr., said modest reforms in recent years were ``baby steps'' that Cuba's top leaders don't want to carry further.

But it's unlikely Castro, now 73, will allow any transition to an open market, said Arturo Villar, publisher of Hispanic Market Weekly, a business newsletter.

If the United States were to lift its embargo against Cuba, the island's government would collapse within months amid anarchy, predicted Villar.

Pastor said a move to a more liberal system in Cuba is inevitable. ``It will head to a more liberal political system. It will head to a more liberal economic system. We don't know when, we don't know how. But we know it's going there.''