Warns against power handover to Raul Castro
By Ginger Thompson and Brian Knowlton, International Herald Tribune |
October 25, 2007
WASHINGTON - President Bush issued a stern warning yesterday that the
United States will not accept a political transition in Cuba in which
power merely shifts from one Castro brother to another rather than to
the Cuban people.
"The day is coming when the Cuban people will chart their own course,"
Bush said. Their new direction, he added, should be toward democracy.
But specialists on Cuba said the president's warning seemed oddly timed
and his analysis outdated, part of a policy that is meant to isolate
Cuba but that increasingly leaves the United States as the international
odd man out.
Bush's remarks, delivered at the State Department, constituted an
unbending response to the political changes that began in Cuba more than
a year ago, when Fidel Castro, 81, underwent surgery and handed power to
his brother, Raul, 76.
While administration officials said Bush's speech was aimed at the Cuban
people, and would be heard by radio there, it appeared equally directed
at the Cuban-Americans who form a powerful Republican voting bloc in
Florida, and more broadly at US conservatives, for whom fervent
opposition to Fidel Castro has long been an article of faith.
Bush's speech amounted to a call for Cubans to continue to resist.
Addressing the military and police, he said they would have a place in a
White House officials said that Bush was not calling for armed
rebellion, but was merely reminding Cubans "that they have the power to
shape their destiny."
Analysts said, however, that Raul Castro has established his hold on
power and has taken moves to open the Cuban economy and at least listen
to public concerns.
With the political transition underway in Havana, and other countries
exploring new relations with the island, US policy looks anachronistic,
"Our policy really is one of utter sterility," said Wayne Smith, a
senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a onetime chief
of mission at the US Interests Section in Havana. "We warn the Cubans
not to go for transition - but it has already happened, and short of
some kind of massive military action, which we're in no position to
take, there's nothing that we can do."
A senior administration official who previewed Bush's speech for
reporters said that nothing in Raul Castro's past gave Washington reason
to expect democratic changes soon. And he said the United States would
uphold its tough economic policies against the island.
But Bush held out the possibility of incentives for change if Havana
showed openness to them.
Those steps might include expanding cultural and information exchanges
with Cuba and allowing religious organizations and other nonprofits to
send computers to Cuba and to award scholarships.
The president reiterated the administration's longstanding demands for
free and transparent elections and the release of political prisoners.
Philip Peters, a specialist on Cuba at the nonpartisan Lexington
Institute, said Bush appeared to be trying to reorient a policy that has
fallen behind the times.
American policy, he said, had been centered around the idea that the
Communist government would fall once Fidel Castro left power. Instead,
Raul Castro's rise caught the administration off guard.
"The administration realized they had missed the boat," Peters said.
"Succession has already happened."
Smith said that most Americans, and increasingly even Cuban-Americans,
favor normalization with Havana.