US gears up for post-Castro era in Cuba
By Sue Pleming
Friday, June 30, 2006; 6:59 PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States should act fast to boost a transitional government in Cuba when President Fidel Castro's rule ends and get advisers on the ground within weeks, a U.S. government report recommends.
The report, which was ordered by President George W. Bush and is due to be released next week, also recommends a new U.S. "democracy fund" for communist-run Cuba worth $80 million over two years to boost opposition to Castro.
In addition, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, suggested yearly funding for Cuban democracy programs of $20 million until Castro's "dictatorship ceases."
The report, which includes a classified annex of measures to undermine Castro and was obtained by Reuters on Friday, was bound to irritate Castro, who has been in power since 1959 and has long accused Washington of meddling in Cuban affairs.
Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon said in Havana what worried his government most was the secret part of the report.
"What's most important is that they admit to a secret plan to overthrow another government," Alarcon, who has handled U.S. relations for Castro for decades, said.
"What on earth could the secret part say when the public part violates all kinds of international law?" he added.
The two countries have no diplomatic ties and the United States has maintained an economic embargo on the Caribbean island for more than four decades. While the report suggested some tightening of enforcement of the embargo it did not suggest drastic changes.
Washington has had plans for a post-Castro transition period for years and its expectations for such a period now appear to rest largely on the leader's eventual death.
Castro, who turns 80 in August, has shown no sign of wanting to step down, and has designated his brother, Raul, to succeed him when he dies.
The State Department declined comment, saying the report could change before being made public, most likely on Wednesday. The president still has to agree to its contents.
The report accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of giving funds to subvert democracy in Cuba. Chavez, a firm Castro ally, has helped Cuba economically through oil import deals.
U.S. HELP FOR TRANSITION
Cuba expert Phil Peters of the Virginia-based think tank, the Lexington Institute, said the tone of the report was more conciliatory than a previous one in 2004, this time suggesting U.S. assistance would be given if requested rather than imposing it on the island.
"The U.S. government will need to be prepared well in advance to help in the event assistance is requested by the Cuban Transition Government," said the report.
However Peters said any of the proposed post-Castro aid could take a while to implement because of strict U.S. laws governing any help for Cuba. "I expect the U.S. will be a spectator there for a long time," said Peters.
The commission, chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Cuban American Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, said that with the end of the Castro government, a transitional government would face daunting challenges to address people's basic needs from health care to providing water.
***which is amusing considering that Cuba's health care system is far superior to the US's***
The United States must be ready to help, said the report, adding such assistance would aid a transitional authority build a democracy.
The report said Cuban exiles could play a crucial role in the transition period.
"The Commission strongly believes that the Cuban community abroad should redouble their efforts to foster reconciliation on and off the island and to undertake steps now to organize and prepare to assist a Transition Government in Cuba."
(Additional reporting by Saul Hudson in Washington and Esteban Israel in Havana)