Rice Urges Cuba to Move Toward Democracy

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the people of Cuba via radio and TV Friday evening. Rice said the U.S. would support "peaceful democratic change" in Cuba.

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The Bush Administration is telling the Cuban people that the illness of Fidel Castro represents a time for change in Cuba. President Bush this week urged the Cuban people to work for what he called a transitional government committed to democracy. And yesterday, Secretary of State Rice followed up with a broadcast to the Cuban people, saying, in her words, much is changing on the island. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN reporting:

The Cuban government's position is that Fidel Castro has temporarily delegated authorities to his brother Raul, not transferred power to him, and that after a few weeks Fidel will be back in charge and the political situation will be back to normal. The Bush Administration, however, sees things differently. In her message to the Cuban people, broadcast yesterday on Radio and Television Marti, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States is closely watching the events in Cuba and sees much changing there. She said the United States would stand with Cubans, in her words, to secure your rights.

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State) All Cubans who desire peaceful democratic change can count on the support of the United States. We encourage the Cuban people to work at home for positive change and we stand ready to provide you with humanitarian assistance as you begin to chart a new course for your country.

GJELTEN: Neither Secretary Rice nor President Bush has spelled out exactly what it is the Cuban people should be doing right now to establish a new democratic government on the island. Some Cuban-American politicians have gone further. Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida, for example, this week said the time has come, in his words, for a campaign of civil resistance and civil disobedience in Cuba. Diaz-Balart went so far as to advise the Cuban military to stand with the Cuban people and not to shoot against protesters. So far there's no sign of any uprising in Cuba. Some analysts say if the U.S. appears to be promoting a rebellion on the island, it could put dissidents there in an awkward position, as if they are doing the bidding of the U.S. government. Robert Pastor, a vice president at American University in Washington, was President Carter's Latin-American advisor.

Mr. ROBERT PASTOR (Vice President, American University) What is really tragic is that after 47 years, the U.S. has still failed to learn the central lesson in U.S./Cuban relations, and that is that anything that we say will be used against us.

GJELTEN: A State Department official says Secretary Rice's comment urging Cubans to work at home for positive change is not a suggestion that they should rise up, but rather a signal not to take to the sea and try to flee to the United States. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

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