Listen to this article
A report commissioned by President George W. Bush on how to hasten the demise of Cuba’s communist government is expected to be released on Friday, with public recommendations on how to tighten the unilateral US embargo and spend more on supporting civil society.
Mr Bush and his national security team met on Wednesday to review the report by the official Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. A White House spokesman said it was the first meeting of the National Security Council dedicated to Cuba in 16 years, and that the report reaffirmed US commitment to a “democratic transition in Cuba”.
Sections of the report – an update to the commission’s first, a 500-page effort in 2004 – are expected to be classified, according to sources who have seen drafts. Those annexes are thought to deal more specifically with how the US could facilitate regime change on the death of President Fidel Castro, who turns 80 next month.
While the report is being issued at a sensitive time, as Cuba contemplates a future without its long-time ruler and a planned handover to his brother Raul, analysts in Washington say US domestic politics and the election timetable also play a role, reflecting the clout of exiled Cubans in Florida. Daniel Erikson, of the Inter-American Dialogue think-tank, sees the update as “more of a symbolic recommitment to democracy in Cuba than a new set of policies to implement regime change”.
“The US has failed to achieve any of its objectives with Cuba in recent years. Reconvening the commission helps give a sense of progress and activity,” he commented, noting that Mr Castro was arguably now in a stronger political position than several years ago, partly due to economic assistance from Venezuela. Pictures of Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president and fierce critic of the Bush administration, are seen increasingly more frequently on the streets of Havana.
A State Department official said Caleb McCarry, the Cuba transition co-ordinator, was expected to make the report public on Friday. It is thought to recommend ways of reinforcing the US embargo and an $80m (£44m) fund to support civil society.
Mr McCarry heads an inter-agency office planning for the “day after” Mr Castro’s death, involving possible military intervention and a major nation-sustaining exercise.
When appointing Mr McCarry last year, Ms Rice noted the commission was created in 2003 “to accelerate the demise of Castro’s tyranny”. Its 2004 report “sought a more proactive, integrated and disciplined approach to undermine the survival strategies of the Castro regime and contribute to conditions that will help the Cuban people hasten the dictatorship’s end”.
In Havana, senior Cuban officials charged that the commission’s updated report amounted to a blueprint for an Iraq-style regime change in the Caribbean, Reuters news agency reported.