- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — The Bush administration proposed yesterday that Cubans hold a referendum to decide whether they want to be ruled by Raul Castro, who is acting leader of the communist nation while brother Fidel recovers from surgery.

Fidel Castro has long fiercely resisted any attempts by the U.S. to interfere with his government, and Cuba is highly unlikely to accept the proposal, announced in Florida by U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

“I would say to the Cuban regime, ‘Why not ask the people?’” Mr. Gutierrez said at the Miami Herald’s Americas Conference. “Why would a real leader be so insecure about giving his people a voice?”

Aides of Mr. Gutierrez said the administration wanted the Organization of American States to organize the referendum. OAS officials had no immediate comment. Cuba has been excluded from participating in the group since the early 1960s, after Mr. Castro took power.

Mr. Castro handed over power temporarily on July 31 because of his intestinal surgery. The government has treated the exact illness as a state secret, although Mr. Castro has been shown this week in pictures talking to visiting leaders in Cuba for a Nonaligned Summit.

Mr. Gutierrez, who was born in Cuba, said a referendum is not a “U.S.-only idea” but one many countries around the world support.

He cited Chile as an example of a country that rejected a military dictatorship and showed “what can happen under freedom and democracy.”

“They were asked a simple yes or no to dictatorship, very simple, and the people said ‘no,”’ Mr. Gutierrez said.

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