BY ELAINE DE VALLE
When Fidel Castro loses his hold of power on Cuba, there will be a lot of questions.
How to begin the privatization of businesses? How to rebuild the infrastructure?
How to change institutions left
over from the Castro regime? Foreign investment? Cuban Americans?
Among the thorniest: What to do with confiscated properties?
Some of those questions will now be studied by renowned Cuba experts thanks
to a $1 million grant from the
United States Agency for International Development to the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban
The funds will go to the Cuba Transition Project, a pioneer academic program
which will examine the issues that
would affect the communist-ruled island's transition to democracy. It is the first time the federal agency has
funded a program outside Cuba, said USAID spokesman Luigi Crespo:
``Our aid has traditionally been directed toward [non government organizations]
to promote democracy in Cuba
but we think we think helping a smooth transition to democracy is very important right now.''
ICCAS director Jaime Suchlicki said the goal is to provide a post-Castro
recommendations drawing on academic studies and the lessons learned in Eastern Europe and Nicaragua.
''The overriding concept of this project is that this would lead to a democratic,
open market economy. The idea is
not to perpetuate the system that exists in Cuba,'' Suchlicki said. ``The people in a free Cuba can accept our
recommendations, reject them or ignore them. But there is going to be a body of studies, both in English and
Spanish, for anybody who is interested in Cuba's transition in the future.''
To that end, the project hopes to include independent organizations and
dissident groups on the island. ''We want
them to have an input into this process,'' Suchlicki said.
But first, the questions: 19 research studies are the first step in the
Cuba Transition Project. One will examine the
telecommunications industry. Another will look at the culture of corruption in Cuba and yet another will study the
growing economic disparities among islanders.
''These are practical, analytical papers,'' said Suchlicki, drawing a distinction
between the Cuba Transition Project
and so-called ''post-Castro Cuba plans'' of U.S. and local governments and organizations.
A second component of the project is the creation of four comprehensive
databases, expected to go online by
next spring to be available as a free resource to the public.
''The first one is in general about Cuba and its infrastructure,'' Suchlicki
said. ``The type of ports there are, the
hotels and infrastructure in tourism, economic demographics.''
A second database will list foreign investment and a third will collect all the major laws that exist on the island.
The fourth is a full-text bibliographical database on studies done on the
transitions in Nicaragua and countries of
Eastern Europe -- though Suchlicki says Cuba's change in power will not necessarily mirror those.
``It may be slow and more difficult. So it is important that we have a
set of ideas, recommendations, analyses,
to see how we accelerate the process once the transition begins.''
Even after it begins, the transition project will continue to help Cubans
on the island with an interactive center
that can facilitate long-distance learning.
``So 100 people can sit in a room in Havana and listen to a professor at
the University of Miami talk about how
to start a business. Or faculty at the medical school in Havana can sit down with our medical school staff and
The project -- made possible by the efforts of U.S. Senators Bill Nelson
and Bob Graham and U.S.
Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart -- will bring together nationally and internationally
renowned Cuba scholars from Harvard, UCLA and Florida International University, among others, as well as
experts from the private industry and government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor.
Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, the principal officer at the U.S. Interest
Section in Havana, says a blueprint will
make things easier in any change of tide.
''The more we know what our options are and the more the Cuban people know
what their options are, the better
the chance we have and they have to see a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy,'' said Huddleston, who will
speak at the campus ceremony this morning when the grant is presented.
``If you plan for things, they usually turn out better.''