By ANITA SNOW Associated Press Writer
America’s new top diplomat to Havana declared Thursday that the Cuban people, not the United States, will someday transform their communist nation into a lively democracy with a free exchange of ideas.
“Cubans aspire to change and that change is coming,” Michael Parmly, chief of the U.S. Interest Section told The Associated Press in his first interview with an international news organization since arriving three months ago. “We are here to support and help in any way we can.”
Far more diplomatic than his blunt-talking predecessor, James Cason, Parmly referred only indirectly to Cuban President Fidel Castro during the afternoon interview on the patio of his official residence. He did not speculate on when or how change would come or whether it was possible before the 79-year-old Castro dies.
But he indicated change would be peaceful _ and prompted by Cubans. “If you let the Cuban people go free, and leave them to their own devices, they will be fine,” said Parmly.
Castro has rejected suggestions his island’s socialist system will change after he is gone, saying “we had our transition in 1959” _ the year he assumed power.
Cuban authorities and other critics of the U.S. government’s Cuba policy have criticized last year’s U.S. report spelling out scenarios for American aid to a post-Castro government, calling it a thinly veiled blueprint for regime change and U.S. occupation of the island.
The report envisions U.S. assistance in holding free and fair elections, fighting corruption and establishing independent trade unions, even modernizing Cuba’s infrastructure. Parmly said Cubans would be free to reject the plan.
“I think they will ask us for help and for the help of the international community,” Parmly said. “Any country emerging from decades of repression needs outside help.”
Parmly said that during a transitional period, Cubans would also likely accept some help from exiles, especially with funding. He noted that a total of 2 million Cubans live in the United States, Europe and other countries.
A career diplomat with experience in promoting human rights and nurturing nascent democracies, Parmly traveled here in September from Washington, where he taught courses at the National War College on the reconstruction of countries recovering from conflict.
Parmly’s most recent foreign posting was in postwar Afghanistan, where he was a key U.S. adviser on presidential elections and oversaw reconstruction in the province of Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold.
Parmly also was deputy chief of mission and charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, after the U.S.-brokered Dayton agreement ended a war that killed 260,000 people and drove 1.8 million from their homes.
He served in communist Romania as well, as a U.S. political counselor, leaving just three months before the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.
“Totalitarian governments are pretty much all the same, even though they each have their own peculiarities,” Parmly said. “They talk to the population, but they don’t listen.”
Parmly described Castro’s recent speeches about imposing more state control on the economy as “chilling” and called the plan “an attempt to get into everyone’s life in a way that would be unthinkable in other societies.”