Monday, January 29, 2007

US, Fidel both sidelined on Cuba policy: experts

US, Fidel both sidelined on Cuba policy: experts
by Antonio Rodriguez Sun Jan 28, 10:55 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States has refused to budge from its
five-decade Cuba policy during Raul Castro's six months in power,
despite world pressure and momentum in Congress for dialogue, experts say.

"Everything is on hold awaiting the death of Fidel and what whatever
happens afterward," said Mark Falcoff, of the American Enterprise
Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, to justify the
unchanging US policy since July 31, when Raul Castro took the reigns
from Fidel, who underwent intestinal surgery.

However, a European familiar with the US-Cuban rift said, "The United is
awaiting initiatives from the island.

"Here, as well as there, slow-motion change does not favor openness, but
the opposite. There is clearly a logjam," said the European diplomat on
condition of anonymity.

As a condition for modifying its policy, the United States demands first
the beginnings of a democratic transition in Cuba, where Fidel, 80, has
ruled for nearly 50 years and is the only leader most Cubans have ever

The US government even rejected two public calls for talks from Raul
Castro since taking power, clinging to US policy that Cuba must first
make steps toward change.

Meanwhile, the United States failed to find the international backing
Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice has sought since July 31 to demand democratic
transition on the island. Only Costa Rica and Eastern European countries
such as the Czech Republic joined Washington.

"The United States finds itself isolated when in search of voices to
condemn Cuba, but it is used to that," the European diplomat said,
alluding to repeated UN condemnations of the four-decade US economic
embargo against Cuba.

"Moreover, they want to avoid Cuba becoming unmanageable," unstable and
send an exodus of refugees to the coasts of Florida, the diplomat said.

The result is a "wait and see" US policy, which surprises Peter Hakim,
president of the Inter American Dialogue, a Washington based think tank.

"For almost 50 years we in Washington have talked about what would
happen when
Fidel Castro left power and now that this has happened, it looks like
the United States has neither strategy nor any idea how to act," he said.

Some members of the US Congress have shown a will to change, although it
remains to be seen if they have the votes.

A delegation of 10 House of Representatives members traveled to Havana
in December, lead by Democrat Bill Delahunt and Republican Jeff Flake
(news, bio, voting record).

"Fidel's step-down is stimulating a re-evaluation of US policy," said
Ian Vasquez, of the Washington libertarian Cato Institute, saying
Delahunt's proposal is to remove restrictions on travel of Cuban
Americans to the island and to hold hearings on US Cuba policy in Washigton.

Both lawmakers warned this week that the United States is losing
influence in Havana by rejecting the call for talks.

"We are very much on the sidelines while this transition is taking
place, at a time that we should be up front and that's what most
frustrates us," said Flake.

Dialogue "would be good for the Cuban people and something that would
motivate and would drive the government there toward reform and not away
from it," he added.

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