U.S. Panel on Cuba Outlined Change Three years ago, a U.S. presidential commission was formed to look at ways to help Cuba become a modern functioning democracy. Just three weeks ago, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba released a report on ways to hasten the end of Fidel Castro's regime. Carlos Gutierrez, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, helped lead the panel.

U.S. Panel on Cuba Outlined Change

U.S. Panel on Cuba Outlined Change

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Three years ago, a U.S. presidential commission was formed to look at ways to help Cuba become a modern functioning democracy. Just three weeks ago, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba released a report on ways to hasten the end of Fidel Castro's regime. Carlos Gutierrez, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, helped lead the panel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In 2003, President Bush formed the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. Its goal, in the administration's words, “to plan for the happy day when Castro's regime is no more and democracy comes to the island.” Three weeks ago, that commission released a 40page plan on hastening the transition to a democratic society. It will have $80 million over two years to do so.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez is co-chair of the commission. He was born in Cuba and he sees the current situation as an opportunity.

Mr. CARLOS GUTIERREZ (U.S. Department of Commerce): We have known, I think it's pretty much common public opinion that anyone other than Castro would have a hard time controlling the island the way he has controlled it. And we hope that the Cuban people will see this as change for the better, that this will be a transition and not a succession.

BLOCK: You know that after your commission's report came out there were voices within the opposition in Cuba, dissidents, among them Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who said we request that they, meaning the United States, do not meddle in our country. Is there an arrogance, do you think, in what you're proposing here? If you have Cubans on their own saying we can handle this ourselves. Don't try to impose yourselves on what could be a peaceful democratic transition.

Mr. GUTIERREZ: Well, it's hard to know what dissidents on the island are saying because there isn't freedom of the press. And it's not as though they're being interviewed and we can hear clearly.

NORRIS: Well in fact, we interviewed Mr. Espinosa yesterday on the program, so he is being interviewed.

Mr. GUTIERREZ: Well that, you know, and we respect his point of view and that is one point of view, but there's so many other Cubans that feel differently. And my point is that without freedom of the press, you really don't know what people are thinking. Now, what we are trying to do, and this is important to explain, is that we simply want to first of all, help the Cuban people from a humanitarian standpoint.

We're also talking about helping them if they so request in setting up a process to allow for elections. And we also believe that they should have the freedom to design their future, which means that we will do what we can to prevent a third party from meddling in Cuba.

So, we're not the ones planning to meddle. We'd like to prevent others from meddling so that the Cubans can take charge of their country.

BLOCK: When you think about the U.S. role in an eventual post-Castro Cuba, how carefully do you think, especially as a Cuban-born American, that the U.S. needs to tread, given how fraught, shall we say, relations have been between these two countries?

Mr. GUTIERREZ: Yeah, that's a good point. And we have to keep in mind that for 47 years, the Cuban people have been hearing, over and over again, that we are the enemy, and we do have to recognize that we are up against those perceptions. And we're going to have to work hard to show the Cuban people that we can be great friends and neighbors and we can help them achieve the kind of prosperity and the quality of life that we believe they deserve.

BLOCK: Secretary Gutierrez, thanks very much.

Mr. GUTIERREZ: Thank you for your interest.

BLOCK: Carlos Gutierrez is secretary of commerce and co-chair of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.

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