Top official says US won't change policy toward Cuba

Campaign News | Thursday, 22 February 2007

Cuban-American Commerce Secretary says blockade is 'correct'

WASHINGTON, USA: A top US administration official insisted on Wednesday Washington had no intention of changing its policy toward communist Cuba, whose centerpiece is a 45-year-old, unilateral trade embargo.

"We believe passionately that our policy is correct," said Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who co-chairs the official Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.

"It is naive to suggest that lifting US economic sanctions would weaken the regime and force change," he said in a speech in which he sharply denounced Cuba's communist government.

Speaking at a conference organized by the Council of the Americas think-tank, Gutierrez said the Cuban government is the one that needed to implement reforms.

"This is not about US policy, this is not about the US having to change. We need to clarify that the change that needs to take place is in Cuba," said Gutierrez, the most senior Cuban-American official in the George W. Bush administration.

Several lawmakers have urged Washington to ease the trade and economic sanctions that officially aim at promoting democratic reform in Cuba.

But Gutierrez made it clear the US administration did not believe the handover of power from President Fidel Castro to his younger brother Raul had led to any significant changes in Cuba.

Fidel Castro, 80, announced on July 31 that he had undergone intestinal surgery and "provisionally" handed power to his 75-year-old brother, Cuba's defense minister and longtime number two.

Cuban officials have said the president's recovery is going well, but have given few details of his exact medical condition. It remains unclear whether Fidel Castro eventually would eventually resume his functions.

As acting president, Raul Castro twice called for dialogue with the United States, but Washington, which dismissed him as "Castro light" and insisted Cuba must first adopt democratic reforms.

"We are doing everything we can to get the message out that it would be a tragic mistake to recognize a successor regime in Cuba," said Gutierrez.

He denounced what he called "the exploitation and brutal repression" of Cubans, whom he called as "the last plantation workers in Latin America.

"We should compare the situation for average Cubans with the situation for the average of North Koreans," Gutierrez said.

"To compare the changes that have taken place in China over 27 years to the conditions in Cuba, I think is the wrong comparison. I would compare Cuba and put Cuba in the same league as North Korea. But not China," he said.

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