BY PABLO BACHELET | Miami Herald
The U.S. intelligence community has added Cuba to its classified list of nations at risk of instability in about two to five years because of growing concerns over the health of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, U.S. officials have confirmed.
The National Intelligence Council, the community’s main center for middle and long range analysis, based at the CIA in Langley, Va., added Cuba to the three-part list during its last biannual update in October, the officials added.
One official said Cuba was added to the list of countries that risk instability in the long term, typically two to five years. The other categories cover countries at risk in the short term, roughly less than six months, and those at risk in the six-month to two-year time frame, added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because intelligence matters were involved.
Cuba’s inclusion in the classified list is the latest evidence that the U.S. intelligence community is growing increasingly concerned over the consequences of Castro’s advancing age and apparently deteriorating health after more than four decades of communist rule over the island.
For more than a year, the CIA has been telling U.S. policymakers that the 79-year-old Castro suffers from Parkinson’s, a debilitating neurological ailment that could make it harder for him to govern. His brother and designated successor, Ra�l, is only five years younger and is widely reported to be a lifelong heavy drinker.
NOT ON VERGE OF CHAOS
Knowledgeable U.S. officials point out that Cuba’s inclusion on the NIC list was a signal to U.S. government agencies to start considering their preparations for a post-Castro Cuba, but caution that this does not mean that the island is on the verge of chaos.
‘‘This is not a sudden issue, we’re not talking about tomorrow,’’ the official said.
``Would there be any instability if Castro passed away, being of old age? That was the question.’‘
The Cuban interest section in Washington did not return calls seeking comment.
The U.S. officials declined to identify the two dozen or so other nations on the list, first reported by the Financial Times newspaper in London in a little-noticed story in November.
‘‘If you were to take a bunch of people who were familiar with foreign affairs, you’d pretty much come up with the same list,’’ said Melanie Anderton, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s new Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization.
CRS uses the NIC list to help set its own priorities, contact other U.S. government agencies and plan for contingencies, Anderton said. The office seeks to harness the government’s foreign crisis management capabilities in one place, with an eye to avoid the planning missteps that marked post-war Iraq.
CRS has been helping to coordinate the new round of planning meetings of the interagency Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, the Bush administration’s main vehicle for setting its policy on Cuba.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reconvened the Commission in December under orders to produce a report in May focusing on the first 18 months after Castro dies and on finding ways to hasten the end of the Castro government.
This is the second time the commission is being convened.
A similar report in 2004 led to tougher U.S. sanctions against Cuba, including restricting Cuban-American family visits to the island.
Earlier this month, the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies staged a mock first meeting of Cuban leaders after Castro’s death to explore what kinds of decisions they might make.
And former Polish President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Lech Walesa recently urged a gathering in Miami last week to ‘‘be prepared’’ for the transition with ``well-structured ideas of what to do, because there could be anarchy.’‘
Mark Schneider, a former official with the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the NIC watch list has been circulating for at least a decade, known informally as the ``yellow light list.’‘
Schneider is now the senior vice president with the International Crisis Group, the London-based organization that lists 78 countries and regions as prone to violent flare-ups.
The ICG list does not include Cuba, Schneider said, because ‘‘ours is much more short-term in nature’’ and ``focusing on deadly violence.’’