- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2004

Passionate on Cuba

Otto Reich, the White House envoy on Latin America and a Cuban refugee, is proud that President Bush is “passionate” about helping to bring democracy to the communist-controlled island.

“You don’t have to encourage President Bush to talk about Cuba,” Mr. Reich told a recent Washington seminar on humanitarian assistance to a post-Castro Cuba. “The president is passionate about Cuba. He gets excited about the possibility of a free Cuba. He says the same things in private that he says in public.”

The group also was addressed by Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Latin America, our correspondent Tom Carter reports.

Mr. Reich told the seminar sponsored by the University of Miami that several committees are working on “hastening the arrival of a transition in Cuba, … expediting the end of the dictatorship.”

Mr. Reich refused to give specifics on the administration’s plans for Cuba between now and the November presidential election, but a State Department official said the Cuban-American community can expect some “surprises.”

The official, who asked not to be identified, said that regulations regarding Cuba in the Office of Foreign Assets Control and U.S. Customs are being reviewed and could be “tightened.” In addition to using the Internet, new technology is being explored so that Radio and Television Marti can get past Cuban jamming.

“We are looking at broadcasting from third countries,” the official said.

Mr. Reich also said the Bush administration no longer will tolerate Americas traveling to Cuba and subsidizing the Cuban regime with tourist dollars.

“Surveillance at airports has increased 100 percent,” he said.

Mr. Reich warned American tourists traveling to Cuba that they that are breaking the law and could be prosecuted. He ridiculed those who say tourists are missionaries of American democracy.

“Give me the name of one country that has been liberated by tourists,” he said.

Mr. Reich, whose family left Cuba when he was 14, said that he hopes one day to return and see the people who now live on his family’s land.

“I want to find the four plots of land where my parents worked. I will tell whoever is living there now that I hope they are happy there, that this land was not given to them by Fidel Castro, but by the people who came before. It will be my small contribution toward reconciliation,” he said.

Cubans worried

The Bush administration talk of promoting democracy in Cuba has Fidel Castro’s man in Washington worried about “proactive” U.S. action that could lead to regime change in Havana.

“We are seeing the administration trying to create a climate that justifies I don’t know what kind of action,” Dabogerto Rodriguez told the Associated Press.

Mr. Rodriguez, chief of the Cuban Interests Section, is most concerned about U.S. charges that Mr. Castro is meddling in the affairs of other Latin American countries.

“That issue could legitimately have been raised 20 years ago but not now,” he told George Gedda, one of the Associated Press’ diplomatic correspondents. “They are trying to create the phantom of Cuban interference.”

Mr. Rodriguez criticized the State Department for canceling talks on migration that normally are held every six months. He denied U.S. charges that the Cuban government is failing to work for safe, orderly and legal immigration.

He also complained about the treatment of Cuban diplomat Roberto Socorro Garcia, who was expelled from the United States last month on charges of associating with criminals.

Mr. Rodriguez said his government is worried about regime change because the Bush administration “has proved a tendency in the past to solve problems through violent means.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected].

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