Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Widespread criticism of Cuba regime urged

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With help from Eastern Europe to Latin America, a loud and clear chorus of international condemnation of Raúl Castro's regime can help set the stage for democracy to take hold inside Cuba, participants in a daylong conference in Coral Gables said on Monday.

''This can no longer be just about the U.S. versus Cuba. Other countries must condemn the island, too,'' said U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who hosted the Cuba Democracy Roundtable at the Biltmore Hotel.

Sitting on a long rectangular table were current and former U.S.-Cuba policymakers, local politicians, exile leaders, Latin America and Eastern bloc diplomats and former Cuban political prisoners.

Calling it ''a historic moment'' in Cuban exile history as the younger Castro's political hold seems to be weakening, Martinez said that after 49 years of Castro family rule, other countries need to help Cubans build a democracy.

A show of solidarity from abroad will remind Cubans that they're not alone and that the United States, which Cubans have been trained to hate through the communist government's propaganda, is not their only ally.

Petr Kolar, Czech Republic ambassador to the United States, said his country is joining forces with Cuban opposition workers to send that message. ''We want the Cuban people to know that life is better after communism. We are the success story. . . . They deserve it, too,'' Kolar said during a break.

José Cardenas, deputy assistant administrator with the U.S. Agency for International Development, which provides U.S. economic and humanitarian aid to foreign countries and has funneled support for dissidents on the island, said USAID will soon begin following the model set by Eastern bloc countries in the 1990s when they toppled communism. ''We want to tap into their real-time experience,'' he said.

Martinez said the call for true democratic change must and will come from inside the island. ''When oppressed people determine their time has come, there is no one that can wield a big enough hammer to stop them. And when they take to the streets, the international community must be ready to react to support the Cuban people,'' said the Cuban-American senator.

A ''spotlight'' needs to be placed on Cuba, just as it has been on Tibet and Darfur, said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez, who co-chairs the State Department's Commission for the Assistance to a Free Cuba..

Gutierrez said the Cuban government has made itself look bad with its recent policy changes.

'Their `momentous' announcement of changes -- that people can buy cellphones and a computers and stay in hotels, are the best news opposition leaders have had in years because they reveal a true picture of life inside the island,'' he said.

Many around the world were probably shocked to learn, Gutierrez said, that the government had prohibited Cubans from owning cellphones.

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