Wednesday, August 09, 2006

ANALYSIS - U.S. left with few options on Cuba

Reuters, India

Thu Aug 10, 2006 12:10 AM IST

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After decades of maneuvering to oust Fidel Castro from power, the United States faces the prospect of an orderly succession in Cuba with few options left in its arsenal to break the grip of communist rule.

A measured response from President George W. Bush to Castro handing over temporary power last week to his brother, Raul Castro, was aimed at tempering expectations in the Cuban exile community for dramatic political change on the island, analysts said.

Cuban exiles, a sizable voting bloc in south Florida and vehemently anti-Castro, reacted with jubilation to the news that the Cuban leader had temporarily relinquished control after surgery. Cuban officials say Castro is now recovering.

On the island, there was no sign of a popular uprising after news that Castro handed power to his brother, and a smooth transition to Raul Castro would demonstrate the limited influence the United States has on Cuba, analysts said.

While the events on the island were seen by some analysts as a "dry run" for when the 79-year-old Fidel Castro dies, analysts cautioned that Cubans were very aware that he was not out of the picture yet and so the reaction was muted.

"This is a mature dictatorship and people rise up and protest at their own risk," Peter DeShazo, Americas Program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.

U.S. policy toward Cuba was not expected to change -- at least quickly -- if Raul Castro permanently takes over the reins, and a 1996 law tightening the longstanding U.S. economic embargo on Cuba prohibits the United States from dealing with either Castro brother.

'NO ARROWS IN ITS QUIVER'

With trade and travel restrictions long in place, the United States has few other tools to try and push Cuba toward democracy, analysts said. U.S. military force was highly unlikely, as was opening a dialogue with the Castro leadership, they said.

"After all its huffing and puffing, the administration has no arrows in its quiver," Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, said.

The low-key approach the administration has taken to Castro temporarily giving up power showed it was trying to lower expectations for a large-scale change, he said.

Bush said Cubans should decide the future of their island nation once Fidel Castro is gone.

"As Cuba has the possibility of transforming itself from a tyrannical situation to a different type of society, the Cuban people ought to decide," he said.

Taking a hard-line on Castro has for years been a political fund-raising tool in Florida, and Cuban exiles have traditionally voted largely Republican but analysts said Cuba was unlikely to have an impact on November congressional elections.

"There is a long-term danger here for Republicans in Florida, they have been promising for so long to get rid of Castro," said Daniel Erikson, senior associate for U.S. policy and director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American Dialogue.

If Raul Castro takes over permanently and communist rule remains, "that is going to show the emperor has no clothes" and that U.S. influence is limited, he said.

Cuba's economic prospects are improving with help from other countries such as China and Venezuela, Castro is admired by many Cubans for his long stand against the United States and the island's dissident movement is seen as small and powerless against the long-established Castro government.

"There are visions in Miami that as soon as Castro weakens there will be a popular uprising," Erikson said, but added this was unlikely in the short run.

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