The New York Times
October 24, 2007
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 — President Bush is planning to issue a stern warning Wednesday that the United States will not accept a political transition in Cuba in which power changes from one Castro brother to another, rather than to the Cuban people.
As described by an official in a background briefing to reporters on Tuesday evening, Mr. Bush’s remarks will amount to the most detailed response — mainly an unbending one — to the political changes that began in Cuba more than a year ago, when Fidel Castro fell ill and handed power to his brother Raúl.
The speech, scheduled to be given at the State Department before invited Cuban dissidents, will introduce the relatives of four Cuban prisoners being held for political crimes. A senior administration official said the president wanted to “put a human face,” on Cuba’s “assault on freedom.”
In effect, the speech will be a call for Cubans to continue to resist, a particularly strong line coming from an American president. He is expected to say to the Cuban military and police, “There is a place for you in a new Cuba.”
The official said Mr. Bush would make the case that for dissidents and others pursuing democracy in Cuba, little has changed at all, and that the country has suffered economically as well as in other ways as a result of the Castro rule.
He will say that while much of the rest of Latin America has moved from dictatorship to democracy, Cuba continues to use repression and terror to control its people. And, the administration official said, Mr. Bush will direct another part of his speech to the Cuban people, telling them they “have the power to shape their destiny and bring about change.”
The administration official said Mr. Bush was expected to tell Cuban viewers that “soon they will have to make a choice between freedom and the force used by a dying regime.”
Some of the sharpest parts of the speech, however, will be aimed directly at Raúl Castro. Mr. Bush is expected to make clear that the United States will oppose an old system controlled by new faces. The senior administration official said that nothing in Raúl Castro’s past gives Washington reason to expect democratic reforms soon. And he said the United States would uphold its tough economic policies against the island.
Mr. Bush would hold out the possibility of incentives for change, if Cuba demonstrated an openness to such exchanges, the official said. Those steps might include expanding cultural and information exchanges with Cuba and allowing religious organizations and other nonprofits to send computers to Cuba and to award scholarships.
However, he is expected to reiterate the administration’s long-standing demands for free and transparent elections, and the release of political prisoners.
John Kavulich, senior policy adviser at the U.S.-Cuba Trade andEconomic Council, said those demands would likely be non-starters for Cuba. He said the technology and educational opportunities Mr. Bush intends to offer are being provided to Cuba by Venezuela and China.
He suggested that the real constituency for Mr. Bush’s speech was the politically-powerful exile community in Miami.
Phil Peters, an expert on Cuba at the non-partisan Lexington Institute, said he saw Mr. Bush’s speech as an attempt to reorient a policy that had fallen behind the times. American policy, he said, had been centered around the idea that the Communist government would fall once Mr. Castro left power, and that Mr. Castro, 81, would be forced out of power only by death. Instead, Mr. Peters said, Raúl Castro’s rise caught the administration off guard.
President Bush has remained largely silent, Mr. Peters said, while Raúl Castro consolidated his control over Cuban institutions by establishing his own relationships with world leaders, and opening unprecedented dialogue with the Cuban people about their visions for their own country. Meanwhile, all the doomsday scenarios predicted for Cuba once Fidel Castro left power — a violent uprising by dissidents and a huge exodus of Cuban refugees — never materialized.
“The administration realized they had missed the boat,” Mr. Peters said. “Succession has already happened. They can no longer have a policy that keeps them waiting for Castro to die when the rest of the world has moved on.”