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U.S. Plans for a Free Market Post-Castro

October 10, 2003|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is launching a new effort to consider how the United States can help create a democratic, free-market government in Cuba once President Fidel Castro is gone, according to U.S. officials and advocacy group members.

The White House has scheduled a Cuba-related public event for this morning and is expected to announce that top U.S. officials are being asked to draw up new recommendations on how an eventual transition should be handled.

The State Department has completed several studies on the topic since Castro took power in 1959, and the Helms-Burton Act even sets out U.S. preferences on the shape of any successor regime. But U.S. officials believe the issue is now more urgent because of Castro's advancing age -- he is 77 -- and continuing signs of pro-democracy ferment on the Communist island.

Under Cuba's current plans, Castro's brother, Raul, becomes head of the government if Fidel Castro dies or steps aside. But many experts predict that Raul Castro would not have strong control and that the island could drift in a new direction.

U.S. officials and influential Cuban American groups want any transition to take place in a smooth and orderly fashion, without violence or huge flows of refugees to Florida.

Conservative Cuban American groups have been urging the administration to be more aggressive in pushing for change on the island, especially since Castro cracked down in March on pro-democracy activists, 75 of whom were given long prison terms.

The administration has resisted some calls for harsh new measures against Castro's government, saying it does not want the dispute to be framed as the United States versus Cuba when much of the world is also condemning Castro's actions.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has been trying to enlist other countries in helping move Cuba to a new form of government. In a speech earlier this year, he asked members of the Organization of American States to "hasten the inevitable democratic transition in Cuba."

Cuban officials have made clear that they resent any suggestion that the United States should try to shape Cuba's future, and have pushed Washington to allow Cuba's economy to grow by dropping long-standing U.S. trade and travel embargoes.

The head of Cuba's diplomatic mission in Washington, Dagoberto Rodriguez, urged the Bush administration Thursday to "stop acting like a lawless cowboy" and to "start listening to the voice of the nations of the world."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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