Gainesville.com | By LAURA WIDES-MUNOZ
U.S. officials on Friday condemned potential outside interference in Cuba’s future by those who don’t support democratic elections there - singling out Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as “meddling” in Cuban affairs.
U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., distinguished between aid from Venezuela and other countries to help the current Cuban government maintain its control over the island after 79-year-old Cuban President Fidel Castro dies, and U.S. aid to promote democracy.
“There’s a big difference between attempting to prevent a transition and being of assistance to a transition,” Martinez said. “If there are those who believe they can impose upon Cuba a succession of a tyranny, they are wrong, and this government will not permit that.”
Martinez, who fled Cuba as a teen, was joined by three Cuban-American U.S. Congressional representatives and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to promote a presidential commission report calling for democracy in Cuba. They met with reporters after speaking at an event sponsored by the nonpartisan lobbying group Cuba Democracy Advocates.
The 93-page report, released earlier this month, includes a proposed $80 million to help develop Cuban civic society and open communication on the island.
Gutierrez, who is also Cuban-American and co-chaired the commission’s report, told reporters that during a transition in Cuba, the U.S. would help with food and humanitarian aid and assist in helping set up elections only if asked.
“That’s a different story than trying to be in there and manipulating and planning something regarding the lives and future of the people of Cuba,” he said.
The report repeatedly cites the relationship between Castro and Chavez and efforts by the two to expand their influence throughout the hemisphere using money Venezuela receives from its oil exportation.
The U.S. buys more than $30 billion in petroleum related products from Venezuela, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
Martinez said recent tightening of the U.S.’ 47-year embargo on Cuba has not had the desired effect because Cuba has turned to Venezuela and China for aid, but he cautioned that the U.S. should not abandon the policy.