As Cuba prepares to celebrate the 80th birthday of Fidel Castro and the eventual passing of his presidential powers to his younger brother, the US has released its own plans for the island’s future – a pledge to help Cubans attain democracy and a free-market economy.
President George W. Bush on Monday approved a “Compact with the People of Cuba”, which promises support “as they move from the repressive control of the Castro regime to freedom and a genuine democracy”.
The US said it would assist what it called a “Cuban transition government” by providing emergency humanitarian aid, maintaining electricity generation, rebuilding the economy and respecting “the right of the Cuban people to be secure in their homes”.
Cuba’s Communist party is warned in a separate 90-page report that the planned handover of power to 75-year-old Raul Castro “or other undemocratic successors” would not bring stability.
The US report calls Cuba a “destabilising force in the region” and accuses Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez of providing funding to enable Cuba to reactivate networks aimed at subverting democratic governments.
Led by Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, and Carlos Gutierrez, secretary of commerce, the report by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba sets out how the US would respond to requests for help by a Cuban transition government.
Asked how such a government would come into being, US officials said that was up to the Cuban people.
The report does not mention “regime change” but it explicitly offers support to Cubans who want to overthrow their government. Ms Rice said the US would help those “who are willing to push for freedom despite the consequences”.
The US also leaves open the possibility that a post-Castro government would turn to it for help. The US would only respond if there was a genuine commitment to implement free elections and a free-market economy within 18 months.
No mention is made of possible US military intervention, although a separate classified annex to the report was not made public.
Caleb McCarry, the State Department’s Cuba transition co-ordinator, said the report included a recommendation on how to “assist the Cuban security forces” during the envisaged transition. He declined to comment on possible US military involvement.
Meanwhile, the US will spend an additional $80m (€63m, £43m) supporting Cuban civil society and broadcasting, while tightening up enforcement of its unilateral embargo and restrictions on US citizens visiting Cuba.
“This is about the president’s freedom agenda,” Mr McCarry said.
Political analysts in Washington said it was also about securing the crucial support of the exiled Cuban community in Florida ahead of mid-term congressional elections.
Brian Latell, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst and author of After Fidel, detects an acceleration of succession planning in Cuba, with Raul Castro assuming a larger leadership role.
Unlike his brother, Raul Castro is attracted to the China model – more inclined to follow moderate economic policies but no relaxation on the political front, says Mr Latell. He says Fidel Castro, who turns 80 next month, “may be losing touch intermittently”.