U.S. Report Outlines Castro's Ouster
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. The U.S. says it's getting ready for a post-Fidel Castro Cuba and it wants democracies in the hemisphere to join in the preparations. A presidential commission on Cuba released a report today. It was met with anger in Havana and resignation by those in Washington seeking a change in the U.S. approach. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
As Fidel Castro nears his 80th birthday and Cuba's Communist Party takes steps to consolidate its control and pave the way for Castro's brother to take power, the Bush Administration says it's getting ready for a different sort of transition. Today Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued what she called a compact with the Cuban people, vowing to stand with opposition figures.
Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): Men and women who speak for those Cubans who are forced into fearful silence but who remain free in their hearts and in their minds.
KELEMEN: She announced a two-year, $80 dollar effort to, in her words, break the information blockade. Caleb McCarey, the State Department's Cuba Transition Coordinator explained that the money will be spent to expand international broadcasting and Internet access for Cubans and to help Cuban civil society groups.
Mr. CALEB MCCAREY (Cuba Transition Coordinator): We know that the regime finds it threatening when people receive uncensored access to the Internet and when people receive information provided to them through broadcasts. But it's very important that we and other nations do provide this kind of assistance and help to support Cubans as they themselves think through their own future.
KELEMEN: The report spells out what additional U.S. aid would be available for a post-Castro transition to democracy. Some of the recommendations remain secrets. Cuban officials say they view the report and its secret annexes as a threat. McCarey went out of his way to say that the U.S. would help a transitional government only if asked.
Mr. MCCAREY: This offer of assistance is that. It's an offer.
KELEMEN: Critics of U.S. policy say the U.S. planning looks like wishful thinking. Sarah Stevens of the Freedom to Travel Campaign says it's hard to imagine that someone will emerge from civil society after Castro dies to lead Cuba in a new direction. She thinks the best way to encourage change is to ease travel restrictions for Americans and Cuban Americans.
Ms. SARAH STEVENS (Freedom to Travel): Well, there's no more direct way to lift the information blockage than to allow Americans to travel to the island. There is nothing like sitting in a living room with your family members in Havana and talking to each other. There's nothing like religious institutions going down there and working with churches in Cuba and carrying out their ministry there.
KELEMEN: The last time the Bush Administration's Commission on Cuba issued a report it led to much tougher travel restrictions and a sharp cutback in religious missions and educational exchanges. The State Department's McCarey defended those actions today, saying the goal is to make sure Castro's regime didn't benefit from travel and tourism. Stevens argues that the embargo isn't working and she says the U.S. will have trouble getting support in the region for its Cuba transition plans.
STEVENS: When Latin Americans are so fiercely resisting the efforts of the U.S. to dictate their futures, this just adds to the perception that that is what we want to do.
KELEMEN: She says the Castro regime is doing well partly because of subsidized oil from Venezuela. The Bush Administration's report accuses Cuba and Venezuela of working together to subvert democratic governments in the hemisphere. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.