DEWAYNE WICKHAM | Zanesville Times Recorder

Put simply, Josefina Vidal’s job is to outmaneuver Caleb McCarry, the Bush administration’s point man in its effort to bring regime change to Cuba. Vidal is the Cuban government official with the day-to-day responsibility for seeing to it that McCarry doesn’t succeed.

While squeezing the economic life out of Fidel Castro’s regime has been the goal of a succession of American presidents, the Bush administration is moving beyond that failed Cold War strategy. The 45-year-old U.S. embargo of Cuba has succeeded only in rallying most of this country’s 11 million people behind their aging leader.
That doesn’t sit well with the neo-conservatives who have a heavy hand in plotting the Bush administration’s foreign policies. Having toppled Saddam Hussein, they now are planning to replace Castro and remake Cuban society.
“To accelerate the demise of Castro’s tyranny, President Bush created the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last year when she named McCarry to serve as Cuba Transition Coordinator. His job is to use American tax dollars to topple Castro’s government and replace it with one that has been conceived in the corridors of the State Department and the parlors of Miami’s Cuban-American exile leaders.

And Vidal’s job is to stay a step ahead of McCarry. As director of North America affairs in Cuba’s foreign ministry, the 45-year-old diplomat knows that Castro’s government is in a life or death fight. Two years ago, the State Department produced a blueprint for replacing Castro.

The recommendations of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba report was the basis for the tightening of the embargo that occurred in July 2004 - an action that was intended to further deny Cuba the money it needs to sustain itself.

“More than 80 percent of the measures in that report are already implemented,” Vidal said. “But they are no closer to their objective of changing the government of Cuba. That’s why I think there’s a lot of desperation among people in the United States government, and people in Miami, who were putting a lot of hope in these measures.”

The most chilling part of the heightened embargo rules is the sharp reduction in the trips that Cuban-Americans can make to see their relatives on this island. Before the new rules took effect in July 2004, they could come here once a year to visit family members. Now they can come to Cuba just once every three years - and only to visit members of their immediate family who continue to live here.

That policy does reek of desperation - and insensitivity.

In May, the commission is expected to issue another report, with new measures. “We don’t know what they are going to propose ... I’m trying to guess what they’re going to come up with.” Whatever it is, Vidal said, Cuba will find a way to thwart it.

Nearly a half-century after Fidel Castro came to power, and 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union - its longtime patron - Cuba remains a country under siege. While the United States has established diplomatic relations and economic ties with the communist nations of China and Vietnam, it continues to aggressively pursue the destruction of Cuba’s communist state.

Our policy toward Cuba borders on political insanity. It is, to be sure, an obsession born not of a desire to spread democracy beyond our borders so much as it is the product of domestic politics. How else do you explain the Bush administration’s animus for Cuba and its embrace of the governments in Beijing and Hanoi?

It is the Cuban-exile vote in South Florida, not the ballots of Chinese- and Vietnamese-Americans, that was pivotal in the election that foisted George W. Bush into the White House.

And it is the pandering of Republican and Democratic politicians to the old cold warriors among the Cuban exiles that is the real enemy with which Josefina Vidal must grapple.

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