May 23, 2006

Report to advise Bush on post-Castro Cuba

By Saul Hudson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. commission is preparing to
advise President George W. Bush on how to inject democracy into
a post-Castro Cuba, but critics say Washington's 40 years of
isolating the island may limit its chances of heading off a
communist succession.

The report by the Commission on Assistance to a Free Cuba,
expected in the next few days, will suggest ways Washington can
influence Cubans to turn away from communism and move to
democracy and a free-market economy when veteran President
Fidel Castro exits, U.S. officials said.

Critics of the U.S. policy, whose cornerstone is a
four-decades-old embargo which failed in its aim of forcing the
collapse of Castro's government, say Bush's focus ironically
has left Washington, not Havana, isolated.

This was reflected in a 182-to-4 United Nations vote last
November condemning the embargo, which has failed to unseat
Castro, 79, despite tougher enforcement under the Bush

Bush followed recommendations in the commission's first
report in 2004 and severely restricted travel to the island and
remittances from Cuban Americans, ignoring calls from some that
opening contacts would hasten communism's downfall.

The second report was expected to recommend some tightening
of the embargo and emphasize stricter enforcement but officials
said it was not likely to include drastic moves. Its focus
would be on preparations for the day Castro leaves office.

Bush critics, including some U.S. Congress members, foreign
governments and political analysts, say Washington should
engage Cuba to encourage better human rights and political
change, as with other communist-run countries like China.

The head of the Organization of American States, Jose
Miguel Insulza, said it was valid to wonder why Bush had
created the office of the Cuba transition assistance
coordinator, who writes the report.

"There's no transition and it's not your country," he said.

Bush's hardline policy on Cuba was partly aimed at shoring
up support in the Cuban exile community in Florida, a key
political state.


Reps. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, and William
Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat, who head a 50-strong
bipartisan group in Congress opposing the U.S. policy, offered
preemptive criticism of the report.

"Any hope that an ever-tightening American embargo could
force political change has been wiped away," they said in a

"No one can predict how Cuba's political future will
evolve. But we can predict that regardless of America's size
and economic weight, our deliberate lack of contact and
communication will reduce American influences," they said.

With the American food industry allowed to export to Cuba,
Flake has proposed legislation that would further loosen the
embargo by permitting energy companies to partner with Cuba to
drill in the waters of an island roughly 90 miles from the
United States.

The Bush administration wants to hold firm against its
ideological foe.

"The purpose of the embargo is to prevent Fidel Castro's
dictatorial regime from using commerce and trade to fund and
strengthen his regime so that he keeps his hold on the Cuban
population," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this

But Philip Peters, of the Virginia-based thinktank the
Lexington Institute, said U.S. ambitions for an overhaul of the
political and economic systems are counterproductive because
they heighten fears in Cuba of turmoil after Castro.

"Cubans want change but they don't want revolution," Peters