Bush plan to try and force a referendum on Raul Castro

Campaign News | Friday, 15 September 2006

Organisation of American States offensive against Cuba

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is proposing that the Organization of American States help arrange a referendum for Cubans to decide if they want to be ruled by Raul Castro, U.S. officials say.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez will outline the idea in a speech Friday at The Miami Herald's Americas Conference being held at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla.

``Let the Cuban people determine their own destiny in a free and fair referendum, in which the OAS could be involved," an aide to Gutierrez said, requesting anonymity in keeping with his department's rules.

Gutierrez, a Cuban American, is expected to cite the example of Chile, which in 1988 held a yes-no referendum on whether Gen. Augusto Pinochet should stay in power. The dictator lost that vote.

Cuba's communist government is considered highly unlikely to accept any such referendum. It has never replied to a request for a referendum on democratic changes pushed by Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya and backed by thousands of signatures from other Cubans.

The Bush administration has said it would launch a diplomatic offensive to put pressure on the Cuban government after the July 31 announcement that Fidel Castro was temporarily handing his leadership responsibilities to his brother Raul.

U.S. officials believe the 80-year-old Fidel Castro, who is recovering from intestinal surgery, is either too ill to return to power or will do so only in a diminished form. Havana has never explained exactly what ails the man who ruled Cuba for 47 years.

The aide said Gutierrez will reiterate the U.S. position that the United States ``will not do business with another dictator, Raul."

Washington's referendum proposal comes just after Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, winner of the 1987 Nobel Peace prize for his mediation in the Central American civil wars, made an impassioned plea at the Americas Conference for Latin America to prod Cuba into adopting democratic reforms.

Arias was addressing a dinner gathering Wednesday night to launch the annual gathering. Long stretches of his remarks were dedicated to Cuba.

He said Latin America had to acknowledge that Cuba really is, ``plain and simple, a dictatorship." Cubans ``deserve the opportunity to choose a destiny for themselves."

Arias has been critical of Castro before. In an Aug. 29 opinion column in a Costa Rican newspaper, Arias said Castro was ``cut from the same cloth" as Saddam Hussein and Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic.

But others in Latin America have been quiet on Cuba since Castro's ailment was announced. The region's nations often adhere to the principle of nonintervention in the affairs of other states.

Brazil's ambassador to the OAS, Osmar Chohfi, told The Miami Herald last month that ``nothing has happened so far to warrant an OAS intervention."

``If there is a transition," he added, ``it is an internal process to Cuba."

But other, non-U.S. diplomats have been privately discussing whether the OAS, the hemisphere's premier institution dealing with political matters, should become involved in the Cuba issue. Cuba was suspended from the OAS in 1962.

One option would be to have Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the OAS, quietly begin contacting Cuban officials.

Another speaker at the Americas Conference, John Kavulich, senior policy advisor for the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said that even after Castro dies, Cuba would not change drastically thanks to the massive economic support it is receiving from leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

``Venezuela is absolutely the key," Kavulich said. ``Financially as long as Chavez backs Cuba, Cuba doesn't have to change."


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