Posted on Mon, Jul. 10, 2006
President Bush approves Cuba policy report
By PABLO BACHELET
WASHINGTON - President Bush approved today a much-awaited report that updates U.S. policies to hasten and assist Cuba's turn to democracy after Fidel Castro, including an immediate $80 million program to assist the Cuban opposition.
Bush also approved an accompanying Compact with the People of Cuba, ''which outlines how the United States will support the Cuban people as they transition from the repressive control of the Castro regime to freedom and a genuine democracy,'' according to a White House statement.
''The report demonstrates that we are actively working for change in Cuba, not simply waiting for change,'' Bush said in the statement. ``I call on all our democratic friends and allies around the world to join us in supporting freedom for the Cuban people.''
The Cuban government has blasted the report as a blatant violation of the island's sovereignty and calls Cuban dissidents ''mercenaries'' of the U.S. government. The report's inclusion of a classified annex -- whose contents remain unknown -- prompted the head of the Cuban legislature, Ricardo Alarcón, to speculate that it may include plans to assassinate Castro.
The second Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba report was officially unveiled by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Cuban-American Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, the co-chairs of the commission. The State Department's Cubatransition coordinator, Caleb McCarry, briefed the media on the text.
A draft version of the report obtained by The Miami Herald two weeks ago recommended creating an $80 million fund to promote democracy in Cuba and a broad array of measures aimed at tightening the enforcement of U.S. sanctions on the island, from creating a task force to target Cuba's growing nickel exports to stopping humanitarian aid from reaching organizations with alleged links to the government, like the Cuban Council of Churches.
U.S. officials said the final version approved by Bush contains only minor modifications.
''Under a new two-year, $80 million program, we are stepping up our efforts along multiple fronts,'' Rice told the media. ``We are increasing our determination to break the regime's information blockade, and we are offering support for the efforts of Cubans to prepare for the day when they will recover their sovereignty and can select a government of their choosing through free and fair multi-party elections.''
After the initial two-year period, at least $20 million will be added to the program, known as the Cuba Fund for a Democratic Future, every year. Officials said the money comes on top of the $35 million a year that Radio and TV Martí already gets from the U.S. government, although the stations could get even more money under the new arrangement.
Officials say the money also would be in addition to the other democracy-assistance programs run by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which amount to about $10 million a year.
Officials repeatedly underscored that many of the recommendations for U.S. actions during a transition would only kick in if Cuba's post-Castro leadership asks for them.
Gutierrez said the U.S. government would supply emergency food, water, fuel and medical equipment, and work with other nations to contribute assistance and stop ``third parties from intervening to obstruct the will of the Cuban people.''
The aid would only be provided if the transition government moves toward a full democratic system, as mandated by current U.S. laws, an apparent rejection of a Chinese-like model that would move toward economic but not political freedom.
''We will do all this and more, provided we are asked by a Cuban transition government that is committed to dismantling all instruments of state repression and implementing internationally respected human rights and fundamental freedoms, including organizing free and fair elections for a democratically-elected new Cuban government within a period of no more than 18 months,'' said Gutierrez.
U.S. visas will be denied for Cuban officials who take part in human rights abuses, and the U.S. government will work with allies to curtail Venezuela's support for Castro.
The report says there are ''clear signs'' that Cuba is using money provided by the government of leftwing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to ``reactivate its networks in the hemisphere to subvert democratic governments.''
The text was commissioned in December as a follow-up to the commission's 400-plus page 2004 report that, among other measures, tightened travel by Cuban Americans to the island. More than 100 government officials and 17 government agencies worked on the latest report, which was presented last week to President Bush.
A copy of the report will be posted sometime today at http://www.cafc.gov