Monday, November 28, 2005

U.S. office works for a free Cuba

U.S. office works for a free Cuba
Washington denies wish to take over
Cox News Service
Sunday, November 27, 2005

Washington — George W. Bush is the 10th U.S. president to hope for a democratic revolution in Cuba to replace Fidel Castro. Now it's somebody's job to make it happen.
As coordinator of the U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, Caleb McCarry doesn't use the term regime change. He wants Castro out, however, and makes no bones about the mission.
"Obviously, we hope the Cuban people will be free from the dictatorship as soon as possible," he said in an interview in his new office at the State Department. "We believe the time has come for change in Cuba."
Castro clearly sees it differently. Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque this month referred to McCarry's work as part of a broader U.S. "plan for Cuba's annexation." Speaking at the United Nations, he said the Bush administration is "delusional" to think Castro's government will crumble.
Castro has shown no sign of relenting to internal demands for political freedoms. His security forces this year jailed more than a dozen opposition activists and journalists, echoing the arrest of nearly 80 people two years ago in Cuba's toughest political crackdown in a decade and drawing criticism from the United Nations and human rights groups world wide.
"Simply put, the Castro regime continues to deny the Cuban people their human rights and fundamental freedoms, betrays them politically, fails them economically and wrongs them by its unrelenting injustice," William Marsh, the senior adviser to the U.S. Mission at the United Nations, told the global body last month. "The Cuban people deserve a government committed to democracy and the full observance of human rights."
Castro, though, who turns 80 next year, is preparing to extend his authority — perhaps beyond the grave. His younger brother, 74-year-old Raul, is vice president. As Castro's second-in-command, Raul is positioned to become Cuba's next leader should his older brother become incapacitated or die.
McCarry, former regional staff director for Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, is working toward an alternative.
"We should not be content to support a successor within a dictatorship," said McCarry, who contends that many of Cuba's 11 million people are viewing the passing of the Castro era as an opportunity for a democratic revolution in their island nation, the only nondemocratic country in the Western Hemisphere.
"The transition is already happening in the minds of Cubans on the island," said McCarry. "They're thinking about their future and many are thinking about a different future."
It was 1959 when Castro, then a youthful revolutionary, led rebels in seizing power in Havana from dictator Fulgencio Batista, who fled. Two years later, with Cuba allied with the Soviet Union — the United States' Cold War opponent — President John F. Kennedy prohibited most U.S. commerce and investment with Cuba, imposing a harsh economic embargo that continues to this day.
Cuba's economy has become stunted over the decades. Per capita income is estimated at the local equivalent of $3,000 a year, but that overstates the quality of life for most of the people living in a society where shortages of basics are the norm and corruption and graft are expected components of the transactions of daily life.
Havana blames Washington for this; the White House blames Castro.
Whatever the economic effect of the embargo, as foreign policy it is widely seen internationally as a long-running failure. For the 14th year in a row, the U.N. General Assembly this month overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling for an end to the embargo. At a time when the United States does business with countries like China and Vietnam — to say nothing of the countries that formed the old Soviet Union — most nations feel it makes little sense for the United States to be squeezing the largest country in the Caribbean.
Siding with the United States in opposing the measure were Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau.
Cuba has largely managed to compensate for the loss of its former Soviet patron. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has taken up Castro's cause, allowing Cuba to barter for Venezuelan crude oil. Havana gets up to 90,000 barrels a day of petroleum and refined products from Venezuela, which allows Cuba to pay for the fuel in goods ranging from prefabricated housing and generic drugs to dismantled sugar mill equipment, according to a recent State Department report.
Cuba has also attracted economic support from China. President Hu Jintao visited Havana last year, signing contracts worth a reported $500 million in Chinese investment in Cuba.
Such measures frustrate the U.S. administration, undercutting its hopes of suffocating the Cuban economy. It's McCarry's job to try to develop other ways to pressure Castro's regime.
At his disposal is a budget of $30 million a year and the resources of the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury Department and the Pentagon, to name some of the agencies that are part of the Cuba commission he heads.
Created by Bush in 2003, the commission is charged with bringing about "a peaceful, near-term end to the dictatorship" in Havana.
McCarry hopes to do that largely by helping Cuba's dissidents and by flooding the radio and television airwaves — as well as the Internet — with news and opinion aimed at countering the steady diet of pro-Castro propaganda that has saturated the island.
What it is not, he said, is a U.S. effort to predetermine the political future of Cuba.
"This is not an imposition," he said. "Cubans themselves will have to decide their own future."

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