WASHINGTON – Ruling out tighter sanctions against Cuba, the Bush administration is pushing for a democratic transition on the island through increased international pressure and more robust support for Cuba's dissidents.
The administration dispatched three officials to Miami this week in hopes of coming up with fresh ideas for bringing about a democratic Cuba. They have been consulting with elected leaders of the Cuban-American community.
Roger Noriega (search), newly installed as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the administration's evolving policy on Cuba will feature a "plan with concrete measures and with a timetable."
He said a tightening of sanctions against the island is not an option.
Noriega said it was a "great tragedy" that the debate over Cuba in recent years "has been all about U.S. policy toward Cuba and not about anything remotely relevant to the island."
Other officials said existing restrictions on travel to Cuba and other economic measures will remain in place as long as there is no progress toward democratic rule.
Noriega said the international community has been unwilling to support the American policy of economic denial over the years — a point demonstrated annually in the virtually unanimous U.N. General Assembly votes in opposition to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
He said the U.S. goal of "reaching out in solidarity to dissidents" will be a lot more effective if it has the support of the international community.
European and Latin American governments have signaled support for this approach in recent months, he said.
Noriega, a former ambassador to the Organization of American States (search) and a one-time aide to former Sen. Jesse Helms (search), R-N.C., said the administration will seek ways of overcoming Cuba's jamming U.S. government television and radio broadcasts tailored for Cuban audiences.
Another key goal, he said, is to increase support for independent libraries and human rights groups on the island which have persisted despite a major anti-dissident crackdown last March and April.
Seventy-five dissidents were rounded up and sentenced to long prison terms for alleged ties to the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba.
To the extent that independent libraries and rights groups continue to exist, Noriega said they need U.S. and other international support "so that they have a little more reach, so they can get the word out about what's happening on the island."
Wayne Smith, a former U.S. diplomat who has long favored a U.S. accommodation with Cuba, said Noriega's ideas could undermine the dissidents.
"The more the United States talks about backing the internal dissidents, the more it undercuts their position by making them appear to be agents of the U.S," Smith said.
The U.S. delegation dispatched to Miami consists of Otto Reich, White House special envoy for Latin America; Dan Fisk, a top State Department Cuba specialist; and Adolfo Franco, an assistant administrator at the Agency for International Development.
Franco oversees AID's Cuba program, which provides assistance to 12 U.S. non-governmental organizations that help Cuba's human rights groups, independent journalists and autonomous pro-civil society organizations.
Frank Calzon, director of the Center for a Free Cuba (search), said he strongly supports the appointment of Noriega but that he has doubts about the bureaucratic will to carry out Bush's policies.
Calzon urged the administration to employ tough measures that, he said, have been available for years. He cited the absence of an indictment of the Cubans responsible for the deaths of four Cuban-Americans in 1996.
They were aboard two Miami-based private plane that were shot down north of Cuba by MiG jet fighters.