WASHINGTON – The United States has big plans for Cuba once Fidel Castro is gone for good.
The administration is prepared to assist a pro-democracy transition government in Cuba — assuming one materializes in the aftermath of communist rule.
Just how far the administration is willing to go in support of a democratic outcome was underscored in an official document made public just three weeks before Castro, citing an intestinal ailment, relinquished power to his younger brother, Raul.
The document was written by the Commission for Assistance for a Free Cuba, appointed by President Bush and chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It was a follow-up to a similar report issued two years ago.
The two reports, neither of which have received much attention, focus on the tasks that the commission believes United States should address in the post-Castro era, so long as Cuban authorities are agreeable.
Very little about Cuba's presumed needs escaped the commission's gaze.
As the panel sees it, the administration should "assist with garbage trucks" to ensure proper trash collection and disposal and water trucks to help thirsty communities.
The aid program also should provide "soap, disinfectant, and cleaning materials to vulnerable groups."
In addition, Uncle Sam's envoys should be on hand to suggest options if food prices on the island spiral out of control.
Obviously, the report also addresses the major issues that Cuba could confront — issues that help define a nation. It recommends U.S. help in the dissolution of Cuba's one-party system and its replacement by "a level playing field for a competitive political process." It also urges the establishment of an American training program on the principles and functioning of a free press.
The administration's byword these days for Cuba is "transition," which appears almost 400 times in the more recent of the two reports, 95 pages long.
In contrast, Cuban officials scoff at the notion that a transition is needed, insisting that a seamless communist "succession" from Fidel Castro will take place.
But the administration sees the prospective demise of Castro, relegated to the sidelines weeks before his 80th birthday, as an opportunity that must not be squandered.
Castro is, after all, the man who dealt a humiliating defeat to the United States at the Bay of Pigs, helped bring the world close to a nuclear holocaust during the 1962 missile crisis and has steadfastly opposed America's blueprint for the world for virtually all of his 47 years in power.
The United States has plenty of resources to toss Cuba's way in the post-Castro era. But its record of nation building in recent years is widely considered to border on failure. Exhibit A is Iraq.
Cuban officals are only too happy to draw parallels between the American experience with ousting a hostile leader in Iraq and its aspirations for Cuba.
"Regime change: that's the concept that they (the Americans) have applied in Iraq," Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said recently, implying that Washington would do no better in orchestrating a transition to democracy in Cuba.
Cuba lacks the sectarian divisions that have played havoc with nation building in Iraq. What is still in question is the number of Cubans who will be willing to scuttle the current system and embrace multi-party democracy.
"We need a reality check here," said Wayne Smith, America's top diplomat to Havana from 1979 to 1982. "Anyone who knows Cuba knows the Cuban people aren't going to rise up against a successor regime."
Rice disagrees, telling the Cuban people Friday an address over U.S.-government run broadcast facilities:
"The United States respects your aspirations as sovereign citizens, and we will stand with you to secure your rights to speak as you choose, to think as you please, to worship as you wish, and to choose your leaders freely and fairly in democratic elections," she said.