South Florida Sun-Sentinel
November 10, 2004

Seminar tackles Cuba transition

By Madeline Baró Diaz
Miami Bureau

CORAL GABLES · When Fidel Castro no longer remains in Cuba, one of the challenges for a transition to a new government will be to "restore hope in a country where little remains," the chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana said Tuesday.

James Cason, the top representative for the United States in Cuba, also said the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe might hold lessons for Cuba, a country he said is suffering from deficiencies in health care and housing as well as an overburdened system that struggles to provide basic necessities such as electricity and water to its citizens.

"As we think about ways to ease Cuba's transition, we will rely on our EU colleagues to give us the benefit of their experience," Cason said during a conference on transition in Cuba at the Omni Colonnade Hotel. "After all, eight formerly communist countries met the conditions for joining the European Union since the fall of the Iron Curtain."

Hosted by the University of Miami's Cuba Transition Project at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies and the U.S. embassy of the Czech Republic, the conference was held on the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Czech Republic is considered to be one of the former Soviet bloc countries that made a successful transition to democracy and several of its leaders have been supporters of dissidents in Cuba and advocates of a transition on the island.

Martin Palous, Czech ambassador to the United States, said the relationship between the Czech Republic and Cuba "is based on our common experience of suffering and struggling with totalitarian rule."

Support for dissidents and dialogue between Cubans on the island and in exile will be crucial in a transition, he said.

Cason said the deterioration of essential facilities in Cuba has eroded the country's educational and health-care systems, once considered triumphs of Castro's revolution.

The diplomat described a Cuba where hospital patients have to bring their own food, sheets and bandages and anesthesia and sterilization equipment are not routinely available. He also said school supplies are scarce and teachers in Cuba quit their jobs for work in the lucrative tourist sector.

Many Cubans, he said, are trying to muddle through and expect change in the wake of Castro's death.

"The survival strategy is simple," Cason said. "Keep your head down, don't make waves and await the biological solution."

Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said the most likely scenario for a post-Castro Cuba is one where the Communist system remains in place after Castro's death.

"We don't anticipate a total collapse," Suchlicki said. "We anticipate a quick succession and a gradual transition which will be long and difficult."

Madeline Baró Diaz can be reached at mbaro@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5007.

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