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Cuban official discounts US action

Published: 8:54AM Friday July 14, 2006 Source: Reuters

Cuba suspects the Bush administration has military plans to topple Fidel Castro's Communist government, but is too bogged down in Iraq to invade, one of Castro closest aides said on Thursday.

The White House's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba last week recommended new steps to hasten the collapse of Castro's one-party state that has been a thorn in Washington's side for 47 years.

They include an additional $US80 million in funding for Castro's opponents and boosted radio and television broadcasts to the island, and tightened enforcement of sanctions to ensure political change after the Cuban leader's death.

What has worried Havana most is a classified annex containing recommendations that were kept secret for national security reasons.

"What they always keep secret are plans for political assassination, a campaign of terror or a military invasion," Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's National Assembly and Castro's point man on US affairs, said in an interview.

Alarcon said US President George Bush's loss of popularity over the protracted war in Iraq ruled out another "military adventure" by the United States.

"At this time they are wondering how and when to pull out of Iraq, not how to get involved elsewhere," Alarcon said. "Still, we shouldn't forget we are only 90 miles away," he said.

US officials deny Washington has any military designs on Cuba. The two countries have no diplomatic ties and the United States has maintained an economic embargo on Cuba for more than four decades.

Undermine succession

The commission, chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Cuban-American Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, focused its recommendations on ending communism in Cuba when Castro, who turns 80 in August, can no longer govern the island nation of 11 million people.

The Bush administration is particularly intent on undermining succession by Castro's younger brother and defense minister, Raul Castro, who is constitutionally in line to take over the presidency, and ensuring a transition to multi-party elections and a free-market economy.

Washington has had plans for a post-Castro transition for years and its expectations now appear to rest largely on the leader's eventual death.

Castro has recently taken steps to strengthen the ruling Communist Party and promote younger leaders, while his brother has taken on a higher profile in public life.

Cuban officials blasted the White House plans as a blueprint for an Iraq-style toppling of the government in their country.

Alarcon said the US plan to overthrow the Cuban government, without even a pretext used in Iraq of looking for weapons of mass destruction, was a blatant violation of international law and had no support from other countries.

An earlier commission report delivered in 2004 led to tighter sanctions and restrictions on travel and cash remittances to the island by Cuban-Americans.

It also established a Cuban transition coordinator to oversee preparations for a post-Castro Cuba.