BY FRANCES ROBLES AND PABLO BACHELET | Miami Herald
In a move that puts Cuba back in the sights of the Bush administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that she is reconvening the cabinet-level commission that last revised the overall U.S. policy on the island.
The Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba issued its recommendations in May 2004 after deliberating for 18 months.
Its list of ways that Washington could assist a transition toward democracy was controversial because it tightened several sanctions, including a cut in the number of trips that Cuban Americans could make to visit their relatives.
REPORT BY MAY
The reconvened commission will present President Bush with a new report by May 2006, ‘‘with both updated recommendations to hasten democracy and an inter-agency strategic plan to assist a Cuban-led transition,’’ Rice said.
‘‘The work we do now will ensure that our government is fully prepared, if asked, to assist a genuine Cuban transition government committed to democracy and which will lead to Cuba’s reintegration into the inter-American system,’’ she added in a statement.
The decision was welcomed by Cuban-American lawmakers. Miami Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart said the decision was a ‘‘very positive development’’ and added that the commission would “concentrate on implementation and enforcement of U.S. policy.’‘
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also a Miami Republican, said the commission could look into ways to generate more international support for dissidents who oppose Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Cuban-American lobbyists say Rice’s decision showed the Bush administration is concerned over Castro’s increasing influence in Latin America, thanks to his close ties with oil-rich Venezuela and the victory by Evo Morales, a socialist critical of Washington, in Bolivia’s presidential election Sunday.
‘‘It shows the concern with Castro’s expanding hemispheric influence and the need to cut the head off the snake before it continues to grow,’’ said Mauricio Claver-Carone, a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee.
The State Department did not say which cabinet members will make up the commission. But Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, a Cuban American, is expected to play a major role in the deliberations.
Cuba’s government recently began a campaign to paint the commission’s first report—dubbed “Plan Bush’‘—as a U.S. effort to take over Cuba and rid the island of free education and health care.
The Communist Party daily newspaper Granma has attacked the U.S. report as nothing but an “annexation document.’‘
Michael Parmly, head of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, said the commission’s work is simply a listing of ways that the U.S. government can help Cubans—should they want it.
The change, he said, will be drafted by Cubans.
‘‘The transition report is exactly what we can do to help and what we can offer,’’ he said in a telephone interview from Havana.