GEORGE GEDDA | Associated Press
President Bush will be committed during his second term to the “liberation of Cuba” by extending moral and political support to the Cuban people, a top State Department official said Friday.
Roger Noriega, who heads the department’s Latin American bureau, also said that once Fidel Castro is no longer in power, the United States is ready to support broad economic and political reform in Cuba “to ensure that vestiges of the regime don’t hold on.”
Noriega noted that Washington has a blueprint for providing social, economic and other types of assistance to Cuba in the post-Castro era.
The plan is spelled out in a report released last May and overseen by Secretary of State Colin Powell. The assistance is conditioned on whether Cuba is on a democratic path and whether such assistance is requested.
Noriega said that Castro’s fragility at age 78 was underscored recently when he fractured a knee and an arm during a fall at a public event.
With Castro’s tumble, Noriega said, the Cuban people had to start thinking about their leader’s mortality as well as their own lives.
“The transition essentially is under way today,” Noriega told a gathering of more than 200 people at an event sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In recent days, Castro ordered the release of some prisoners who were facing long sentences following their convictions last year of collaborating with the United States in anti-regime activities.
The Bush administration denied the allegation and said the detentions of 75 activists in March 2003 exposed the repressive nature of the regime.
The prisoner releases appeared to have been the result of Spanish mediation and could lead to a thaw in Cuban relations with the Europe.
Noriega said the Europeans should be engaging with the Cuban people rather than the Castro regime.
He added that it was “cynical and evil” for Castro to detain people and then release them in exchange for diplomatic favors.
As for the Europeans, he said, “making concessions to a regime like that is really a wrongheaded policy.”