Bush indicates support for Cuban regime change

Saturday, May 8, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Cuban President Fidel Castro usually offers an inviting target during U.S. presidential election campaigns. President Bush, accused by some in his party of not doing enough to confront Castro, offered them on Thursday what amounts to a policy of regime change in Cuba. "We're not waiting for the day of Cuban freedom, we are working for the day of freedom in Cuba," Bush told reporters. A presidential commission recommended that the United States subvert the planned succession in Cuba under which power would pass from Castro to his younger brother, Raul. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Bush was playing election-year politics.

"Four years after candidate Bush came to Florida and promised Cuban-Americans the moon, all they've gotten from this president is lip service and broken promises," Kerry said in a statement.

Kerry pledged that, as president, he would fight full time for freedom and democracy on the island.

Bush has taken some steps to demonstrate his deep disregard for the Cuban leader, who turns 78 in August. But his comments Thursday seemed to add a new dimension to his belligerence.

Cuban-American Republican members of Congress said they were pleased. Five senators, including two Republicans, were not.

"Opening America's doors to Cuba -- and challenging Cuba to open its doors to the rest of the world -- will be an act of strength and magnanimity," they said in a letter to Bush.

Mexican President Vicente Fox, whom Bush counts as a major hemispheric ally, said in Mexico City that his government considers the proposal an infringement of Cuba's sovereignty.

"Mexico will not back in any way this proposal, which runs counter to Cuba's sovereignty, nor will we accept the interference of any other country there," Fox said.

Cuba and Mexico are themselves involved in a diplomatic spat. Mexico expelled Cuba's ambassador and called its ambassador home from Havana after accusing the Cubans of meddling in Mexico's internal affairs.

The commission, headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell, said the United States "rejects the continuation of a communist dictatorship" on the island.

The commission recommended measures in its report "to focus pressure and attention on the ruling elite so that a succession by this elite or any one of its individuals is seen as what it would be: an impediment to a democratic and free Cuba."

The 500-page report was made public after Bush discussed it with commission members at the White House.

A White House fact sheet listed several immediate actions ordered by Bush based on the report. He restricted family visits by Cuban-Americans to once every three years instead of the current one-per-year. He retained the $1,200-a-year limit on dollar transfers that Cuban-American families can send to the island.

He also restricted remittances and gift parcels to immediate family members. Recipients could not include "certain Cuban officials and Communist Party members."

Also, the authorized per diem amount for a family visit was lowered to $50, compared with $164 now.

It was unclear how these restrictions would be enforced.

The plan under which Defense Minister Raul Castro would succeed his brother has been in place for years.

Fidel Castro is president of the council of state and of the council of ministers. Raul, who will turn 73 in June, is the first vice president of both councils.

"The Castro dictatorship is pursuing every means at its disposal to survive and perpetuate itself through a 'succession strategy' from Fidel Castro to Raul Castro and beyond," the commission said.

It was uncertain whether the question of subverting the succession plan is addressed in more detail in a classified section of the report.

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