U.S.: Cuba will change after Castro’s death | VailDaily.com

U.S.: Cuba will change after Castro’s death

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration remains hopeful that the death of Fidel Castro will unleash grass-roots pressure among Cubans for democratic change – but many analysts see little threat to the regime under the thus-far seamless succession of brother Raul.As U.S. officials see it, the seismic political event for Cuba has yet to come.”We don’t feel that we’ve lost an important moment, because quite frankly, we don’t see any significant possibility of change of any kind until Fidel is gone,” Tom Shannon, the top State Department aide for Latin America, says.Intestinal surgery last July led to the transfer of power from Fidel, 80, to Raul, 75. U.S. intelligence agencies do not expect the elder Castro to live long but his two brothers, Raul and Ramon, insist he is recovering.U.S. presidents have been waiting for decades for Fidel to die and to take his communist project to his grave. President Bush, who has especially close ties to the anti-Castro Cuban-American community, has tried to hasten a democratic transition by tightening the embargo against the island.But many observers say the post-Fidel era has begun – with Raul Castro clearly in control.Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said last month that Raul Castro has the “widespread respect and support” of military commanders, whose backing he believes will be crucial in the succession process.He said Raul Castro should be able to fend off any move to depose him “at least for the short term.”Brian Latell, a former top Cuba analyst at the CIA, agrees and says Raul Castro has been acting more boldly than expected, encouraging debate among Cubans and calling on university students to “fearlessly” discuss the country’s problems.A majority of people in the U.S., 54 percent, said it is unlikely that Fidel Castro’s regime will be replaced with a democracy once he is gone, according to an AP-Ipsos poll taken a couple of weeks ago.There is little evidence of pro-democracy ferment in Cuba. The answer to whether that reflects fear or contentment on the island depends on whom one asks. One visible indication of unrest is the single word that appears on occasional street signs: “Cambio” (“Change”).Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-born Florida Republican, says the calm under Raul is illusory.”The regime of Fidel Castro is not viable without Fidel Castro,” he says. “A transition to democracy in Cuba is inevitable, but Fidel Castro needs to die for the future of Cuba to begin.”Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, says there will be “an explosion of expectations” among Cubans for a better life once Fidel dies. As the regime “is unable to meet these aspirations, the likelihood of instability will increase.”But Wayne Smith, a former diplomat and an advocate of resuming ties with Cuba, sees continuity in Havana under Raul Castro.Myles Frechette, once dismissed by Cuba as a “troglodyte” in his days as a U.S. diplomat, offers the same assessment. Raul, he says, possesses the necessary “ruthlessness” to put down would-be foes.The administration has elaborate plans for food deliveries to Cuba and other emergency relief in the event of unrest. Plans also are in place to counter possible mass migration from Cuba. A full-scale exercise, replete with role-playing by mock migrants landing on U.S. shores, is set for south Florida next month.A key element of the administration’s regime change strategy is to deny resources to Cuba through travel restrictions and other measures. A presidential report issued three weeks before Castro fell ill says, “The more financially stressed the system is, the more difficult it will be for any leader who follows Fidel Castro to preside over a succession within the dictatorship.”But Raul Castro’s ability to retain control has been bolstered by steep discounts on oil sales to Cuba by Venezuela’s pro-Castro President Hugo Chavez. The annual savings for Cuba, according to U.S. estimates: $800 million. Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations says the handoff from Fidel to Raul has been “notably smooth and stable – not one violent episode in Cuban streets.”The Bush administration is disappointed that Latin American democracies have not been pressing for democratic change in Cuba. Many apparently are reluctant to be seen as doing U.S. bidding. Cuba has also fostered good relations with hemispheric neighbors by sending countless doctors to work in underserved communities.Cuba, meanwhile, is keeping a wary eye on Florida-based exile groups. Officials warn of an attempt by Miami Cubans to reclaim the homes they left behind, forcing current occupants into the street.They are also on guard against a possible power grab by what it sees as an “annexationist” U.S. administration. Bush has said, though, that any new leadership for Cuba should come from within the island, not from south Florida.—On the Net:CIA World Factbook on Cuba: https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/cu.htmlState Department background on Cuba:http://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/c2461.htm

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