The new U.S. plan to "hasten a transition to democracy"
in Cuba has met with more opposition than support among the Cuban people, and
even from the very dissidents it is designed to back.
The recommendations set forth by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba
were presented to President George W. Bush last Thursday, just before Mother's
Day, which is traditionally the occasion of an increased flow of remittances
and gifts sent by loved ones abroad.
"They say the remittances won't be affected, but by stiffening controls on
people who travel here, less money will come from family members who live in
the North (the United States)," Milagros Sarría, 55, who has a number
of relatives living in that country, complained to IPS.
She said that in her neighborhood "no one is talking about anything else,"
and "most people believe" the measures "will hurt Cuban families"
more than the socialist government of Fidel Castro.
Sarría spent Monday morning trying to cash a money order she received
from her daughter through the Western Union international money transfer agency.
"It was complicated, because there were so many people in all of the Western
Union offices. As if everyone had started sending money just in case, to guard
against what might happen," added Sarría, who also receives money
brought in by people traveling to Cuba, and is sometimes sent dollars in the
name of other people, when necessary.
The US government only allows Cubans living in the United States to send their
relatives in this Caribbean island nation a maximum of 1,200 dollars a year.
Although Bush's plan does not lower that ceiling, it does contain measures to
crack down on "illegal" transfers of money.
The measures were proposed by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba,
which was created by the US government last year to help focus efforts on achieving
its objectives of "hastening Cuba's peaceful transition to a representative
democracy and a free market economy".
The Commission's policy prescriptions are aimed at tightening the US embargo
in effect against Cuba since the early 1960s, and 59 million dollars will be
allocated for their implementation.
The measures will limit family visits to Cuba to just one trip every three
years, under a specific license only valid for visiting immediate family members.
They will also reduce the amount that visitors from the United States can spend
on food and lodging in Cuba, from 164 dollars a day to just 50 dollars a day.
In addition, they will limit "recipients of remittances and gift parcels to
immediate family members."
The Commission also recommended the designation of a "Transition Coordinator"
in the State Department "to facilitate expanded implementation of pro-democracy,
civil-society building, and public diplomacy projects and to continue regular
planning for future transition assistance contingencies".
Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, a dissident who returned from exile in the United
States in August and is still awaiting authorization from the Cuban government
to stay in Cuba, reacted strongly against the plan, which he said was "a
provocation" and amounted to "meddling".
"The recommendations to President (Bush) are practically an incitement
to armed conflict," the dissident stated in a letter addressed to US Secretary
of State Colin Powell.
Gutiérrez Menoyo delivered the letter to the US Interests Section in
Havana when he visited it Monday accompanied by other activists also opposed
to Bush's program.
"We have received the letter and we will make sure it gets to Secretary Powell,"
a diplomat at the Interests Section told IPS.
The document, which carries the letterhead of Cambio
Cubano (Cuban Change), a U.S.-based organization of moderate Cuban exiles
led by Gutiérrez Menoyo, warns of the risk that "anxiety could be
generated across this nation, which could result in public disturbances and
even an uprising of unpredictable characteristics."
It also predicts that the impact of the new measures could lead to "a
massive exodus (and) a conflict...with the consequent loss of lives of US soldiers
and destabilization of the Caribbean basin region."
Gutiérrez Menoyo, a former commander of the guerrilla army that toppled
dictator Fulgencio Batista and seized power in 1959, became an adversary of
Castro's revolutionary government and spent 22 years in jail as a political
prisoner until his release in 1986, when he went into exile.
In August 2003 he returned to Cuba for a visit and announced his decision to
stay, and to open a local branch of Cambio Cubano. So far he has received no
official response to his request for authorization to live in Havana, but the
authorities have not bothered him either.
The dissident's message to Powell was accompanied by a statement titled "Cuba:
time for clarification - you are either Cuban or annexationist," in which
he called the naming of a "Transition Coordinator" "an insult
to the Cuban people".
He also urged the "independent opposition" to visit the US Interests
Section to express their rejection of the recommendations, and reiterated his
call to the Cuban government to engage in dialogue with opposition groups.
"The United States has absolutely no right to define the how, what or when,
or the pace and timing of the democratic transition in Cuba," said another
leading dissident, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, spokesman for the Arco Progresista,
a coalition of social democratic opposition groups.
Cuesta Morúa accompanied Gutiérrez Menoyo, as did Manuel Gutiérrez,
an activist belonging to a small group, the Consejo Nacional Defensor de los
Meanwhile, Oswaldo Payá, the driving force behind the Varela Project
which is calling for changes in Cuba's socialist system, said "Cuba's transition
process will be designed" in a national dialogue between Cubans.
"It is up to Cubans to design the changes," said Payá
the winner of the European Union's Sakharov Prize for human rights in 2002
in a statement faxed to the foreign press to announce the start of "a day
of reflection on the transformations required by Cuba".
"It is not right, nor do we accept, any external element, whether from the
United States of America, Europe or anywhere else, trying to design the Cuban
transition process or supposedly becoming an actor in that process," said Payá.
Elizardo Sánchez, the president of the Comisión Cubana de Derechos
Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional (Cuban Commission for Human Rights
and National Reconciliation), also said Monday that "I do not call into doubt
the good faith of those who drafted the report (by the Commission for Assistance
to a Free Cuba), but I believe that several of the proposals contained therein
are absolutely counterproductive" and "objectively meddlesome".