Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cuban officials charge US planning regime change

Cuban officials charge US planning regime change

HAVANA (Reuters) - Two senior Cuban officials charged on Wednesday that a report on the communist nation delivered to the Bush administration's National Security Council amounted to a blueprint for an Iraq-style regime change in the Caribbean.

"We are facing a real threat of aggression," National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba's report, flashing a draft he said had appeared briefly on the U.S. State Department's web page, to a national television and radio audience.

The report, ordered by President George W. Bush and delivered but not made public on Wednesday, focuses on insuring communism ends when President Fidel Castro, who turns 80 in August, can no longer govern the Caribbean island nation, according to draft seen by Reuters.

Cuban Defense Minister Raul Castro, 75, in line to succeed his older brother Fidel, recently insisted the Communist Party would continue to rule the country after he and his brother were gone.

An earlier commission report delivered in 2004 and since implemented led to further tightening of U.S. economic sanctions and travel restrictions established in the 1960s and increased support or dissidents. It also outlined what a post-Castro Cuba might look like and established a Cuban Transition Coordinator to oversee preparations.

The new report supports the earlier one and calls for building an international coalition to support a transition, increased organizational and financial support for dissidents and a further tightening of economic sanctions, among other measures.

The first chapter, entitled "Hastening the End of the Castro Dictatorship: Transition not Succession," includes a separate "classified annex" of recommended actions.

"You can't accomplish what they propose without an invasion, without a war. ... This plan implies a U.S. military invasion of Cuba, a direct U.S. intervention," said Bruno Rodriquez, First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The United States denies it has any military designs on Cuba. Western diplomats generally discount a U.S. military threat, pointing out the country is bogged down in the Middle East and the large number of Cubans living in the United States who would oppose a military venture because of family and friends on the Caribbean island.