U.S. Has Plan to Aid Post-Castro Cuba
- From: PL <pl.nospam@xxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 01 Aug 2006 19:05:10 GMT
U.S. Has Plan to Aid Post-Castro Cuba
By GEORGE GEDDA , 08.01.2006, 12:45 PM
The Bush administration said Tuesday it is monitoring the health crisis of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, as officials restated their goal of helping to ensure a democratic transition on the island.
Three weeks before the official announcement in Havana of Castro's deteriorating health, a U.S. presidential commission called for an $80 million program to bolster non-governmental groups in Cuba for the purpose of hastening an end to the country's communist system.
The report also proposed "assistance in preparing the Cuban military forces to adjust to an appropriate role in a democracy." It provided no details on this point.
Cuba's National Information Agency called the report a "new plan of aggression" that violated the island's national sovereignty.
"We can't speculate on Castro's health, but we continue to work for the day of Cuba's freedom," White House spokesman Peter Watkins said Tuesday. .
The official announcement in Havana said Castro, who will be 80 in two weeks, underwent intestinal surgery and temporarily turned over power to his brother Raul. He turned 75 two months ago.
On Monday, before Castro's illness was announced, President Bush was in Miami and spoke of the island's future.
"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."
At the time the 95-page commission report was released, Bush said, "We are actively working for change in Cuba, not simply waiting for change."
The United States and Cuba have been unbending adversaries since Castro entered into an alliance with the Soviet Union and converted his country into a Marxist-Leninist state in the early 1960s.
Hostilities reached a peak during that period, marked by the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis.
There have been no high-level political contacts between the two countries since 1982. The collapse of European communism almost two decades ago was a severe blow to Castro, both politically and economically.
Lately, his fortunes have improved somewhat with the emergence of left-of-center and leftist government in Latin America, most notably in Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez has used his oil wealth to back policies long espoused by Castro.
For years, successive administrations have tailored their Cuba policies with an eye toward winning support from the vote-rich Cuban-American community in South Florida, which is predominantly anti-Castro. The U.S. trade embargo has been the centerpiece of American policy toward Cuba for more than 40 years.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a member of the House International Relations Committee who has long opposed Castro, said even a temporary relinquishment of power by Castro is "a great day for the Cuban people and for their brothers and sisters in exile."
"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," she said. "I hope this is the beginning of the end for his despised regime."
Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who like Ros-Lehtinen was born in Cuba, joined with her in saying they expect U.S. action for now will be limited to transmitting radio messages of hope to the Cuban people and preventing an influx of illegal immigrants from the island.
Martinez said he is confident the Navy and Coast Guard have the necessary resources to prevent refugees from trying to flood U.S. borders.
He also said he would not support lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba until reform was under way. Instead, the United States should lend its ear to political dissidents and pressure outside forces, such as Venezuela, to limit support of the communist regime, the senator said.
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