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September 2006
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Reaction to Cuba proposal split

Posted on Sat, Sep. 16, 2006

Reaction to Cuba proposal split

A White House proposal for Cuba to hold a referendum on democracy
sparked divisions among U.S. officials and stirred differing Latin
American viewpoints.

A Bush administration proposal for a Cuban referendum on democracy
created a split between two Cuban American lawmakers, one who backed it
and another who called it “unfortunate.”

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who is a Cuban American, officially
unveiled the idea for a referendum Friday on the final day of The Miami
Herald’s Americas Conference, held at the Biltmore Hotel.

At the conference, top U.S. officials highlighted the clash of visions
between Latin Americans who favor democracy and open markets and others
who favor more authoritarian rule and reject free trade.

The referendum proposal sparked its own clash of visions, even though
Cuba is considered highly unlikely to accept any such proposals.

Gutierrez challenged the Cuban government to allow its people to vote in
a referendum, asking if they want a democratic government, to be
sanctioned by the Organization of American States. A report Friday in
The Miami Herald said the referendum would be on whether Cubans want to
be ruled by Raúl Castro, but in his speech Gutierrez referred more
broadly to democracy.

”Let the Cuban people determine their own destiny,” Gutierrez said,
adding that they could “work with the [OAS] and others on a democratic

Miami Republican lawmaker Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, in a rare
disagreement with the Bush administration, called the idea “unfortunate
and inappropriate.”

Diaz-Balart alleged that a 2004 recall referendum in won
handily by leftist President Hugo Chávez was ”fraudulent” yet it was
validated by OAS observers. While Chávez opponents complained of fraud,
no credible proof was produced and Washington never challenged the outcome.

The administration swung to Gutierrez’s defense.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told The Miami Herald that
Gutierrez had consulted with Secretary of State Condoleezza before
making the proposal and that the referendum was “well within the
boundaries of our policies.”

Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez also backed Gutierrez. ”We need to
challenge the transfer of power from one to another,”
he said.

Raúl Castro temporarily has replaced his brother Fidel, who is reported
to be recovering from surgery to stem intestinal bleeding from a
still-unexplained ailment.

In his speech to the Americas Conference, Gutierrez also disputed the
notion that the Western Hemisphere is turning more radical. This year,
the region has seen seven elections, with several more to come, and the
radicals are “clearly in the minority.”

Latin American nations also are undertaking more pro-business reforms,
he added, citing the examples of Paraguay and Mexico, which have lowered
their corporate income tax rates.

Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, speaking at the
conference’s closing luncheon, said the region was at a ”new
threshold” of forging a unified vision.

Alluding to Chávez’s constant challenges to U.S. policies, Shannon said
one ”vision” in Latin America sees democracy in “very totalitarian

With many South American nations governed by left-leaning leaders —
including Argentina, Brazil and — Shannon said the real struggle
in the region is “within the left end of the political spectrum.”

Also discussed at the conference was the Oct. 1 elections in Brazil.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is expected to sweep into a second
term, but analysts warned that his political clout will be diminished.

With voters disillusioned with his Workers Party over corruption
scandals, Lula da Silva will be dealing with a hostile legislature and
opponents controlling the influential states of Sao Paolo and Minas
Gerais, said Rubens Barbosa, a consultant and former Brazilian
ambassador to Washington.

Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Norman Caldera predicted that perennial
Sandinista presidential candidate Daniel Ortega will not win the next
elections on Nov. 5, but warned of possible problems afterward.

”Certainly he is not going to be winning this time,” Caldera said, but
”there is some risk” that Ortega is “going to look at López Obrador
in Mexico — bad loser — and try to do something.”

Leftist Andres Manuel López Obrador has refused to recognize the winner
of Mexico’s elections, Felipe Calderón, and has been managing a campaign
of disruptive protests.

Miami Herald staff writer Jane Bussey contributed to this report.

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