Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush's Cuban Quandary

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bush's Cuban Quandary

Article excerpt

While President Bush has been focused on troublesome problems in far-off Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, he is paying new attention to Cuba, which could cause election-year problems in his own backyard.

Bush's new interest in Cuba comes at a time when there is evidence of a policy split between Fidel Castro and his hard-line supporters on the one hand, and, on the other, a group of well- placed officials and military men who favor a softer line at home and a warmer relationship with the US.

The maneuverings are subtle and extremely cautious, because overt opposition to Mr. Castro has dire, and sometimes fatal, consequences.

One of the most intriguing signs was the presentation to the Cuban parliament Oct. 3 by dissident leader Oswaldo Paya of 14,384 signatures demanding sweeping political reforms. Last year he delivered 11,020 signatures to the National Assembly voicing similar demands. Lawmakers dismissed the earlier petition, which triggered a government crackdown and lengthy prison sentences for dissidents, including activists in the Varela Project, as the petition movement is called. It is so named after Felix Varela, a Cuban independence hero. But Paya vowed to continue and was back this year.

Well-informed Cuban observers say someone in high places has to be protecting him. Says one: "You have to be careful not to upset the apple cart in Cuba. The security system is so tight, you don't just walk into the National Assembly and deliver a petition calling for a referendum on freedom of speech and assembly and amnesty for political prisoners. Somebody allowed him to do it. Somebody opened the door."

But on the other side of the coin, hard-liners around Castro might be deriving comfort from the apparent elevation in the hierarchy of Ramiro Valdez, a semi- retired former interior minister with a reputation for repressive inclinations and activity. In Cuba's July 26 national celebrations he was given a position of honor beside Castro, stirring speculation that he might even be being positioned as Castro's successor, a role long thought to have been reserved for Raoul Castro, whose health may now be in question.

The issue dividing these carefully jousting factions is how Cuba should represent itself to the outside world at a time when its economy is in tatters and it desperately needs foreign friends to come to its aid. …

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