- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2006

Cuba’s future

For the U.S. ambassador to Spain, the possibility of democratic change in Cuba is more than a political matter. It’s a personal one.

Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre Jr. was 15 when he left Cuba for the United States as part of Operation Pedro Pan, a project by U.S. and Cuban religious groups that persuaded Fidel Castro to allow Cuban parents to send their children to the United States. Mr. Aguirre arrived in Miami in 1961 and spent the rest of his teenage years learning English, working odd jobs and finally graduating from Louisiana State University. He later pursued a profitable career in the banking industry.

Today, at 60, Mr. Aguirre in Madrid watches the events in Havana and hopes for a better life for the 11 million Cubans still subject to the political repression and failed economic policies of Mr. Castro’s communist government.

“I have a very special interest in Cuba,” Mr. Aguirre wrote in the Spanish newspaper La Razon last week after hearing the news that the ailing dictator had turned over power to brother Raul until he recovers from a major operation.

“As the United States ambassador to Spain and Andorra, I represent a country deeply interested in Cuba’s future of freedom, democracy and economic progress. Like many other freedom-loving people in the world, I have strong hopes for a better future for Cuba.”

Mr. Aguirre sought to assure readers that the United States has no intention of intervening in Cuba’s domestic affairs but stands ready to help, if asked, with a transition to democracy. He also dismissed Cuban government attempts to portray the United States as a “bogeyman” waiting to invade the island.

“The United States does not want to witness a mere succession, a continuation of a dictatorship that has already lasted nearly half a century,” he wrote.

“Our hope is for a prompt, genuine transformation to democracy, with full rights and freedom for the Cuban people, the liberation of political prisoners and free and fair election within 18 months.”

Mr. Aguirre said Washington is prepared to help a transition government with humanitarian aid such as food, water, medicine and fuel, and to provide specialists to prepare for elections, retrain the military to obey a civilian government and advise independent labor unions, women’s groups and youth organizations.

Working 24/7

The American ambassador to Cyprus says the U.S. Embassy had to “start from scratch” to quickly develop a complex and coordinated effort to evacuate U.S. citizens and other foreigners from Lebanon. More than 13,000 people have been sent home through Cyprus to date, he said.

“We have worked 24/7 for over two weeks and set up an infrastructure to move thousands of Americans out of Lebanon and back to the U.S.,” Ambassador Ronald Schlicher said on the feature “Ask the Ambassador” on the State Department’s Web site (www.state.gov).

He set up command centers, chartered large commercial ships, enlisted the aid of the U.S. Navy and engaged more than 50 civilian airplanes.

“To meet the challenge, we enlisted the efforts of every single American and Cypriot member of our local staff, plus the services of dozens of colleagues ‘borrowed’ from other embassies,” he said.

Mr. Schlicher also praised the government of Cyprus for helping in the efforts.

“We coordinated closely with our Cypriot government hosts, who responded with amazing compassion and efficiency,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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