Archive for Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bush signs off on plan for Cuba after Castro

July 11, 2006

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— President Bush on Monday approved a much-awaited report that updates U.S. policies intended to hasten Cuba's turn to democracy after Fidel Castro is no longer in power. The plan calls for an immediate $80 million in funding for Cuba's opposition.

"We are actively working for change in Cuba, not simply waiting for change," Bush said in endorsing the report by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.

The report predicts a clash between the "energized" opposition and a post-Castro communist government undergoing an "intrinsically unstable" succession, backed by allies like Venezuela.

The 95-page report was accompanied by a two-page "Compact With the People of Cuba," which reiterates the U.S. desire to stand ready to work with the Cuban people to attain political and economic liberty.

The report includes a classified annex, the contents of which remain unknown, prompting the head of the Cuban legislature, Ricardo Alarcon, to speculate that it may include plans to assassinate Castro. The Cuban government has blasted the report as a blatant violation of the island's sovereignty and calls Cuban dissidents "mercenaries" of the U.S. government.

Activists in Cuba - the ones most likely to benefit from the windfall the transition report calls for - met the report with mixed reactions.

"We didn't ask for economic help, and we don't want it," said Miriam Leiva, an independent journalist and founding member of the dissident group Ladies in White. "We are not mercenaries. This report serves as supposed evidence for the government to take us to jail."

But former political prisoner Vladimiro Roca welcomed the money the plan proposes.

"They have said we are mercenaries, so if that money were to come, it would be more than welcome," Roca said by phone from Havana. "The government is going to call us that anyway. That's what they want, for us not to take money. The government wants to choke us off. We need materials, equipment, clothes, everything."

The report, which follows a similar 2004 report, was officially unveiled by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Cuban American Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, the co-chairs of the commission.

The report recommends creating an $80 million fund in 2007 and 2008 to promote democracy in Cuba. It also promotes a broad array of other measures, from denying visas to Cuban human rights violators to stopping humanitarian aid from reaching organizations with alleged links to the government, such as the Cuban Council of Churches.

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