Bush urged to intervene after Castro's death

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The Independent US

A new high-level report due for publication later this week urges the United States government to begin preparations to intervene in Cuba in the event President Fidel Castro's death. The goal is to help spawn a speedy transition on the island towards "democracy and political freedom".

The recommendations, which include the creation of an $80m (£43m) fund to promote democracy in Cuba, are contained in the latest report compiled by the Commission for Assitance to a Free Cuba, created by President George Bush three years ago. The group is co-chaired by the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and by the US Commerce Secretary, Carlos Gutierrez, a Cuban-American.

A classified annexe to the document lists future measures the US should consider further to undermine the regime of Mr Castro, who has led the island since 1959. The report's release, probably this Wednesday, is certain further to aggravate already tense relations between the two governments.

The president of the Cuban parliament, Ricardo Alarcon, condemned the report over the weekend, describing its publication as an act of war. "What's most important is that they admit to a secret plan to overthrow another government," Mr Alarcon told reporters. "What on earth could the secret part say when the public part violates all kinds of international law?"

Speculation as to the future of Cuba has been building for months with Mr Castro preparing to celebrate his 80th birthday in August. There is no evidence of the Cuban leader suffering from serious ill health, however, and he has already signalled his intention to pass power to his brother, Raul.

The report focuses on the possibility that the death of Mr Castro will nonetheless mark the beginning of a process of transition towards democracy, however gradual. It argues that the US should be ready to give a transitional government any assistance it requests, for instance in maintaining health care or power supplies, or training judges and police.

"The US government will need to be prepared well in advance to help in the event assistance is requested by the Cuban transition government," it says, noting that the US should "provide technical assistance in the first two weeks after a determination that a Cuban transition is under way".

In addition to the two-year $80m fund, the US should also be ready to spend $20m a year on pro-democracy programmes, the panel said.

To what degree the US can expect to influence events is open to question given its efforts over the past four decades to isolate and punish Cuba's leaders. In recent years, Mr Bush has moved to tighten a US embargo, for instance by limiting the amount of money Cuban exiles can send to family back home.

The US Coast Guard is reporting a dramatic rise in would-be Cuban asylum-seekers taking a perilous new route to American soil. It involves Cubans flying to the Dominican Republic - a journey that can only be undertaken with permission from the Cuban government - and then boarding boats for tiny Mona Island, between the Republic and Puerto Rico. The island belongs to Puerto Rico and so is considered American soil.