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US sees repression ‘worsening in Cuba’

February 28, 2007

by Guy Dinmore on FT 27 Febrary 2007

The Bush administration official whose job is to hasten the end of communism in Cuba on Tuesday claimed the Castro government was stepping up its internal repression in response to an increasingly active opposition movement.

Caleb McCarry, the US State Department’s Cuba transition co-ordinator, cited “independent Cuban journalists” as saying civil society had become more active, especially in the provinces, since Fidel Castro temporarily passed power to his brother Raúl last July.

Cubans were starting to speak up in defence of their neighbours from attacks by government-orchestrated mobs, Mr McCarry told the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) policy group. His assessment contrasted with that of analysts and members of Congress who recently returned from Cuba with reports of a smooth transition of power.

“What you see is an uneasy version of the status quo,” said Dan Erikson, analyst with the Inter-American Dialogue think-tank. What was remarkable since last July was the level of caution and lack of new thinking displayed by all sides – the government in Havana, the Bush administration and the exiled Cuban community.

The no-change in US policy was underlined by Carlos Gutierrez, the US commerce secretary, in a speech to the AEI. He indicated no intention to relax the travel ban or the partial trade embargo as members of Congress have proposed. He also reiterated the administration’s rejection of dialogue offered by Raúl Castro.

“The problem is the repressive communist system. The only solution is to change the system,” Mr Gutierrez said.

While Mr Gutierrez stressed the US had “no imperialist intentions” or military plans to occupy Cuba, Roger Noriega, a former Bush administration official, said “international intervention” could be necessary if the regime used “deadly force” to survive.

Asked if the US would intervene to stop such an outcome, Mr McCarry said he did not answer hypothetical questions.

Mr McCarry heads an inter-agency office which has been planning for the “day after” Fidel Castro’s death. His mandate is to “accelerate the demise of Castro’s tyranny” with a more proactive approach that would undermine the regime’s survival strategies.

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