Bush Administration Proposing Cubans Vote on Raul Castro

The Bush administration proposed Friday that Cubans hold a referendum to decide if they want to be ruled by Raul Castro, who is acting leader of the communist nation as brother Fidel recovers from surgery.

But Cuba is highly unlikely to accept the proposal, announced here by U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Fidel Castro has long fiercely resisted any attempts by the U.S. to interfere with his government.

"I would say to the Cuban regime, 'why not ask the people?"' Gutierrez said at The Miami Herald's Americas Conference. "Why would a real leader be so insecure about giving his people a voice?"

CountryWatch: Cuba

Gutierrez aides said the administration wanted the Organization of American States to organize the referendum. OAS officials had no immediate comment. Cuba has been excluded from participating in the group since the early 1960s, after Castro took power.

Gutierrez said a referendum is not a "U.S.-only idea" but one many countries around the world support.

Gutierrez, who was born in Cuba, cited Chile as an example of a country that once had a military dictatorship and later held a referendum in which people chose democracy. He called today's Chile a "great example" of "what can happen under freedom and democracy."

"They were asked a simple yes or no to dictatorship, very simple, and the people said 'no,"' Gutierrez said.

Castro handed over power temporarily on July 31 due to his intestinal surgery. The government has treated the exact illness as a state secret, although Castro has been shown this week in pictures talking to visiting leaders in Cuba for a Nonaligned Summit.