- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

The Bush administration plans to announce in the next few weeks a new set of Cuba initiatives to undermine the regime of Fidel Castro, the State Department’s senior diplomat on Latin America said yesterday.

“We are reviewing where we are in meeting the president’s commitment to promote democratic change on the island,” Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, said in an interview.

“Right now we are doing an inventory, looking for concrete, specific, achievable objectives,” Mr. Noriega said.

He refused to specify what the package would include, but said his office was in consultations with other parts of the government including South Florida’s representatives on Capitol Hill, trying to find ways promote change in Cuba.

Mr. Noriega, well known as a hard-liner on Cuba, said the Cuban-American community would recognize some of the measures as their own.

“This is something I feel very strongly about. The president has made explicit commitments … to support change in Cuba. My job is to make good on those commitments. I am convinced we can be doing a better job,” he said.

The initiatives will come amid anger at the Bush administration in South Florida’s Cuban-exile community over a recent decision to repatriate a group of Cuban refugees who stole a boat in an attempt to reach the United States.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Noriega also discussed the Venezuelan political crisis, trade, the civil war in Colombia, U.S.-Brazil relations and the terrorist threat in South America.

On Venezuela, Mr. Noriega said that while the Bush administration “refuses to interfere in the internal affairs of our neighbors,” the United States is working with the Organization of American States (OAS), Brazil, Mexico and several other nations to “promote a peaceful, constitutional and democratic solution in a very polarized nation.”

On Colombia, he praised President Alvaro Uribe, who he said had “started to turn a corner” in imposing rule of law.

He also praised Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as “an authentic democratic leader” with whom the United States can work.

Mr. Noriega, a former U.S. ambassador to the OAS, was the Latin America specialist for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under its former chairman, retired Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican.

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