BY OSCAR CORRAL | Knight Ridder Newspapers
MIAMI - (KRT) - Cuban-American congressional leaders and members of anti-Castro exile organizations Friday unveiled one of the most comprehensive proposals to date of how to proceed with a transition to democracy and a social market economy in a post-Castro Cuba.
The sweeping study is a clear indication of the vision some exile leaders have for the island that they fled years ago.
It calls for the privatization of joint ventures between the government and foreign investors, endorses the right of urban property dwellers in Cuba to remain in their homes as long as old private owners are properly compensated, and suggests that government-owned land be redistributed to small- and medium-sized private farmers to help foster a middle class.
Congressional leaders say they hope it will provide input to the Bush administration’s post-Castro plans.
“We will make sure that this plan becomes part of the Bush commission,” said U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. “The solution of Cuba is not in Washington, but to have freedom, we insist that Cuba has to have plurality.”
The proposal is also a clear rejection of dissident Osvaldo Paya’s Proyecto Varela, a referendum signed by thousands of Cubans to create change on the island by working within the communist constitution.
“It’s important for us to set the tone that there will be no fundamental change in Cuba’s system if you go along with the constitution drafted by Fidel Castro,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “This sets up a new path.”
But by laying out a blueprint counter to Paya’s Varela project, conservative exile leaders may be widening the gap that exists between them and more moderate-minded Cuban Americans who support that effort.
Diaz-Balart, his brother, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Ros-Lehtinen reject the Varela project because they feel it does not go far enough in its intended reforms.
More moderate exiles disagree.
“It seems sad that the efforts of these exiles is to derail the cause that dissidents in the island are carrying out,” said Jose Basulto, former head of Brothers to the Rescue. “These are the plans of people who have no plans. If they really had plans, they’d be planning the fall of Castro and how to carry that out.”
Many other high-profile exiles have expressed their support for the Varela Project, including Archbishop Agustin Roman; Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban-American National Foundation; and Carlos Saladrigas, a prominent Cuban American businessman.
Saladrigas said Friday that any proposed plan is positive because it can help foster a healthy debate. But he said it still isn’t clear how proposed changes will be achieved.
“The `how’ is what’s missing from this debate,” he said. “Osvaldo Paya has proposed a how. We all want democracy, liberties, institutions and privatization, the question is how do you get there?”
The study, called “Socio-Economic Reconstruction, suggestions and recommendations for a Post Castro Cuba,” was prepared by Antonio Jorge, a political economy and international relations professor at Florida International University.
The congressional leaders also praised the recent formation in Miami of the Cuban Socio-Economic Reconstruction Commission, which is made up of professionals and experts to devise ways to help the post-Castro transition in specific fields such as housing, agriculture and economic development.
Jorge said the goal was to create a series of principles “to ensure that those who want a pseudo, false transition will fail.”
“We have a certain vision of Cuba’s future,” said Jorge. “Those who want to share this view are free to do so. Those who do not are free to follow their own inclinations.”
Independent observers say that it’s not unusual for exiled populations to take an active role in a post-communist transition. For example, exiled Czechoslovakians worked closely with members of the internal dissident movement after the fall of the Berlin wall.
“There’s no doubt that Antonio Jorge and the others who worked on this are extremely knowledgeable on the Cuban economy,” said Ricardo Bofil, one of Cuba’s original dissidents who now runs a human rights organization in Miami. “I think they bring forth many interesting themes that will produce a fertile debate in the future.”
Despite the differences over Paya, Mario Diaz-Balart insisted there was no division between Cuban exiles.
“Whoever says Cuban exiles are divided, let them come here today,” said Diaz-Balart, addressing a crowd of mostly elderly supporters at the Koubek Center in Little Havana.
Ros-Lehtinen said that the plan is supported by prominent dissidents in Cuba, including Oscar Elias Biscet and Marta Beatriz Roque.
“I think this will be accepted by the Cuban community on the island,” she said.
Jorge, who worked closely with University of Miami Professor Jaime Suchlicki, did not set out to develop a detailed blueprint for transition, but rather a framework of principles to guide the process.
For example, he advises that loans and credit lines should be made available by Cuba’s financial institutions to help finance the rebirth of the private sector. He also believes that public money should be loaned to the private sector to finance reconstruction of infrastructure, and to facilitate the transfer of government property to private Cuban ownership.
He recommends that promotion of individual liberties and rights should be a priority.
By drawing on the lessons learned from other post-communist transitions in Eastern Europe, Jorge warns that the transition should be gradual, not rushed. Still, the report calls for a complete change in Cuba’s political and economic system.
Jorge said it is critical that Cuba enable its own citizens to become the private owners of its assets - through loans and grants - instead of seeing assets auctioned off on the international market.
“I’ve never been a conservative, political or social,” Jorge said. “This is a populist proposal.”