U.S. pledges $80 million for Cuba opposition


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Tuesday, July 11, 2006 - 12:00 AM

U.S. pledges $80 million for Cuba opposition

By Gary Marx
Chicago Tribune

HAVANA ‹ U.S. officials announced a plan Monday to spend $80 million over the 
next two years to strengthen Cuba's struggling opposition movement as part of a 
series of measures aimed at ending Cuban President Fidel Castro's one-party 

The Bush administration also pledged to tighten existing sanctions, improve 
efforts to break Cuba's "information blockade" against its citizens and 
intensify a campaign to diplomatically isolate the country.

The measures are contained in a report issued by the Commission for Assistance 
to a Free Cuba, the White House's top policy-making body for Cuba that is run by
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Commerce Secretary Carlos 
Gutierrez, a Cuban-American.

"We are offering support for the efforts of Cubans to prepare for the day when 
they will recover their sovereignty and can select a government of their 
choosing through free and fair multi-party elections," Rice said as she unveiled
the report.

There was no immediate response from Cuba to the 93-page document, which is a 
follow-up to the commission's first report in May 2004.

But Cuban officials last week denounced a draft report similar to Monday's final
version as a U.S. plot to annex Cuba and reverse what they describe as the 
revolution's achievements in health, education and other areas.

"We are facing a true threat of aggression," Cuban National Assembly President 
Ricardo Alarcon said.

Although the commission said it is "a time for bold, decisive action" against 
Castro, critics said the report offers little that is new and merely endorses 
ongoing U.S. measures that have failed to bring about change.

"This is about the U.S. trying to provide the illusion of activity to hide the 
fact that there has been no progress on their objectives," said Daniel Erikson, 
director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington 
think tank.

One opposition activist on the island said the measures outlined in the new 
report could provide Cuban authorities with a cover for intensifying the 
repression against them.

"It gives the Cuban government evidence to call us mercenaries and put us in 
prison," said Miriam Leiva, a prominent dissident. "The government is always 
looking for excuses to crack down on us."

Yet, while the report offers few new proposals, it adopts a more moderate tone 
than its predecessor on several key issues, experts said.

The report emphasizes the need for national reconciliation among Cubans at home 
and abroad while pledging the United States would not support "any arbitrary 
effort to evict them (Cubans) from their homes" in the post-Castro era.

Such a pledge is important because many island residents fear that returning 
Cuban-Americans would claim homes and other property confiscated by Castro after
he seized power in 1959.

The commission made clear the United States would not provide humanitarian and 
other assistance to a post-Castro government unless it moved swiftly toward 
multiparty elections.

Since 2004, President Bush has intensified financial, travel and other sanctions
against the island to weaken the Cuban government by denying it hard currency.

At the same time, U.S. officials have spent tens of millions of dollars 
supplying everything from food to clothing to fax machines and computers to 
opposition activists. Cuban authorities have imprisoned many activists who 
accepted the assistance.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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