Dallas newspaper says US is planning for a Cuba without Fidel - soon

Campaign News | Thursday, 17 February 2005

Report says Cuba should be worried about Bush regime's intentions

DALLAS NEWS Feb 17 - Iraq, Iran and North Korea are more than enough to fill Washington's plate these days, but one country hasn't left the table for nearly a half-century: Cuba.

Now,though, some U.S. officials are convinced the communist regime's downfall will come "sooner rather than later," and they're busy planning for a future without Fidel Castro.

They see the United States taking a profound role in post-Castro Cuba, overseeing such details as the deregulation of energy prices, the training of park rangers, the creation of a "secondary mortgage market system," the repair of roads and bridges, and even the immunization of children.

The White House blueprint for Cuba is described in a massive document, "a 500-page Frankenstein," as Castro supporters call it.

It envisions training Cuban security forces, paying salaries to selected military and intelligence officials, and prosecuting uncooperative former Castro officials and "other pro-regime zealots."

Bush administration officials say they'll assist a future government only if asked, but already their blueprint has been soundly rejected by the island's dissident leaders, "the very Cubans whom the administration sees as agents of change," according to Philip Peters, a Cuba expert and former State Department official.

Undeterred, Bush officials eagerly await Mr. Castro's day of reckoning.

They've even picked a title for their future man in Havana: State Department coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization.

Wayne Smith, the top U.S. diplomat in Havana during the Carter administration, calls it "Iraq II."

"The path by which the Bush administration led us into the nightmarish Iraqi quagmire is strewn with arrogance, flawed assumptions, faulty intelligence and downright lies," he wrote last year. "It seems determined to make the same mistakes all over again with Cuba."

President Bush has said that all he wants to do is bring democracy to the island, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice describes as one of the world's six "outposts of tyranny." But Cuban officials worry about what Mr. Bush might do.

"Bush's idea of regime change is linked to the very existence of Fidel Castro," said Miguel Alvarez, an official with the National Assembly, Cuba's legislative body. "Bush says he won't sit back and watch. He'll accelerate the transition. To me, that's practically a declaration of war."

Mr. Castro, 78, made a rapid recovery after shattering his knee in a fall last year. But the perception among some U.S. officials is that his health is declining.

During a congressional hearing Wednesday, CIA Director Porter Goss said, "In Cuba, Castro's hold on power remains firm, but a bad fall last October has rekindled speculation about his declining health and succession scenarios."

Impatient with the natural course of events, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., suggested on a radio show last year that the Bush administration consider assassinating the Cuban leader.

Cuban officials say such a plan wouldn't surprise them. Over the years, anti-Castro plotters have tried killing Mr. Castro with bombs, bullets and poison cigars.

"What now?" Mr. Alvarez asked. "How will they try to overthrow him? Coup? Invasion?"

Two senior U.S. officials, both Cuba experts who were interviewed separately in Washington, said there are no plans for military action or a U.S.-engineered coup.

"The United States has made it very clear that we are not looking at the military option," although Cuban leaders would like the populace to think otherwise, one official said.

"It's just one of their acts," he said. "Once again, it's a distraction to try and make the Cuban people think about a bogeyman that doesn't exist. The Nazis did it, Soviets did it, North Koreans do it, and the Cubans do it."

What's clear is that not since John F. Kennedy allowed the Bay of Pigs invasion has an American president been so aggressive in trying to end Mr. Castro's rule. And Bush underlings are confident he'll be successful.

"There will be change in Cuba, and it will come under George Bush," Adolfo Franco, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told a Washington crowd last year.

The U.S. strategy, unveiled in May without congressional approval, calls for spending up to $59 million - on top of tens of millions of dollars already budgeted - to undermine the Castro government over the next two years.

That includes $36 million for pro-democracy activities and aid to dissidents; $18 million to beam Radio and Television Martí into Cuba; and $5 million to spread information on Castro misdeeds, including his alleged harboring of terrorists.

The funds will also be used to tell the world that Cuba is developing biological weapons, an accusation that even some Bush administration officials question.

"It's clear the U.S. government is trying to deepen the confrontation," Mr. Alvarez said. "These are dangerous times for Cuba."


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