Cuban diplomat worries 'regime change' may be part of Bush plan
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
WASHINGTON -- Dagoberto Rodriguez, Cuba's top diplomat in Washington, spends his days looking for hints about what the Bush administration has in mind for his country. He doesn't like what he sees.
Is "regime change" in the cards in this election year, he wonders. That possibility can't be ruled out, he says, because the administration "has proved a tendency in the past to solve problems through violent means."
The Bush White House has never outlined such an objective. It has, however, expressed an interest in hastening a transition to democratic rule in communist-run Cuba.
Rodriguez is not sure what that means, and he spelled out his concerns to a reporter in an interview last week at Cuba's stately diplomatic mission a mile or so north of the White House.
He said Cuba's suspicions have been heightened by what he sees as several "provocative" U.S. actions in recent days.
One was what he described as the unjustified expulsion of Cuban diplomat Roberto Socorro Garcia last month. Rodriguez adamantly denied news accounts attributed to State Department officials that Garcia was expelled for associating with criminal elements.
Another concern was the State Department's recent cancellation of talks on migration issues, which normally are held every six months. U.S. officials said Cuba has not been cooperating in achieving the goal of safe, orderly and legal immigration. Rodriguez denied the allegation, contending that Cuba always takes U.S. proposals seriously.
Allegations of meddling
To Rodriguez, the most inexplicable and troubling development has been the recent U.S. allegation of Cuban meddling in Latin America, sometimes in collaboration with the country's main South American ally, Venezuela.
"That issue could legitimately have been raised 20 years ago, but not now," Rodriguez said, pointing out that Cuba has normal relations with all hemispheric countries except El Salvador.
"They are trying to recreate the phantom of Cuban interference," he said.
As the administration sees it, Cuban President Fidel Castro is indeed, at age 77, reviving his efforts to generate unrest in the region.
"It should be very clear to Fidel Castro that his actions have caught the attention of Latin America leaders and that his actions to destabilize Latin America are increasingly provocative to the inter-American community," says Roger Noriega, the State Department's top aide for Latin America.
Speaking at a Jan. 6 news conference in New York, Noriega said, "Those that continue in destabilizing democratically elected governments, interfering in the internal affairs of other governments, are playing with fire."
Rodriguez listed several potential U.S. options for punishing Cuba: suspending food sales, cutting off dollar transfers from Cuban-Americans to family members on the island or sharply reducing U.S. air links to Cuba. None of these is likely to be adopted, he said, because of legal and political constraints on the administration.
"We are seeing the administration trying to create a climate that justifies I don't know what kind of action," the Cuban envoy said. He suggested the answers may come in early may when President Bush receives a report from an official panel on Cuba that he set up last October.
The panel, designated "The Commission for a Free Cuba," is headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and is due to complete its report in early May.
When Bush announced the commission last October, Powell suggested that the goal is not to ease Castro out but to plan a strategy for Cuba once the aging leader is no longer in power.
"It's prudent for us, as Castro gets older and this regime gets rustier, to start to think about the fate of these millions of people in Cuba," Powell said at the time.
The commission's focus, he added, is to decide what the United States should be doing to help Cuban people in the post-Castro era.