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Rice sends message of U.S. support to Cubans

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice broadcast a “message of support” to Cubans on Friday, urging them to stay on the island and work for a peaceful transition of power.
/ Source: Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent a message of support to Cubans on Friday, urging them to stay at home to work for “positive change” now that President Fidel Castro’s leadership was in question.

Castro temporarily handed over control of the country to his brother Raul Castro this week while he recovers from intestinal surgery, raising speculation over how much longer Castro will rule the communist island.

“All Cubans who desire peaceful democratic change can count on the support of the United States,” said Rice in a message taped at the State Department in Washington and intended for broadcast via networks that reach the Cuban people.

“We encourage the Cuban people to work at home for positive change, and we stand ready to provide you with humanitarian assistance as you begin to chart a new course for your country,” the top U.S. diplomat added.

The United States is anxious to avoid a flood of refugees amid the political uncertainty that has followed Castro’s illness, and Rice made clear Cubans should not attempt to cross the Florida Straits to reach the United States.

“Clearly we believe that Cubans should stay in Cuba and be a part of what will be a transition to democracy,” said Rice in an interview that aired on MSNBC-TV’s “Hardball.”

Referring to the handover in power to Castro’s brother, Rice said it was not acceptable to “go from one dictator to another” and the Cuban people deserved better.

Snow: No plans to invade Cuba
A U.S. government report by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba recommended a month ago the United States act fast to boost a transitional government in Cuba when Castro’s rule ends and get advisers on the ground within weeks.

U.S. officials say this plan has not been activated and White House spokesman Tony Snow said Friday the United States was still trying to assess the situation in Cuba and no changes were planned in overall policy at this point.

Snow also sought to reassure Cubans the United States would not use the uncertainty surrounding Castro’s illness to invade the communist island.

‘More than just a close neighbor’
Rice’s taped message is intended to be broadcast on Radio Marti, a Miami-based network which transmits Spanish language broadcasts to Cuba.

However, few Cubans are likely to receive the message via the U.S.-funded network as Cuba successfully jams the TV Marti signal and most of Radio Marti broadcasts in Cuban cities. The message is more likely to reach Cubans via commercial Miami-based stations which they get through pirate satellites.

Rice urged all democratic nations to join together to call for the release of political prisoners in Cuba and a transition that quickly leads to multi-party elections there.

“It has long been the hope of the United States that a free, independent and democratic Cuba would be more than just a close neighbor — it would be a close friend,” said Rice.