Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the United States is ready to assist Cuba in a transition to democracy, but is not attempting to foment unrest on the island while President Fidel Castro is ill.
It has been nearly a week since President Castro temporarily handed executive authority to his brother, Raul, before undergoing surgery for what government sources described as gastrointestinal bleeding. Since then, Cuban officials have accused the Bush administration of attempting to destabilize the country by repeatedly broaching the subject of political change on the island.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" program, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed the allegation, but reiterated U.S. support for democracy in Cuba. "We are not going to do anything to stoke a sense of crisis, or a sense of instability in Cuba. This is a transitional period for the Cuban people. We are going to stand with them for the proposition that there should not be the end of one dictatorship and the imposition of another dictatorship," she said.
She said her message to the Cuban people is that they have an opportunity to build a stable and more democratic nation.
With heightened U.S. Coast Guard patrols along the Florida Straits, Rice said a mass exodus of Cubans, in her words, "is not to be expected, nor would it be condoned."
In the last week, many Cuban exiles in the United States have expressed excitement and eagerness to return home in a post-Castro era. Asked whether the United States would allow a reverse-exodus of exiles back to Cuba, the secretary of state had this to say. "Our role will be to help the Cuban people, when the time comes, to have a peaceful and stable democratic transition," she said.
Fidel Castro, who turns 80 next week, has ruled Cuba since leading the island's 1959 Communist revolution. Details of his health are sketchy at best. Cuban officials say the president is recovering well after surgery, and is able to sit up in bed. But a Brazilian newspaper reports Cuban authorities told their Brazilian counterparts that Mr. Castro's gastrointestinal bleeding was caused by stomach cancer, a life-threatening disease. Cuban officials deny the report.
Those who have wished the Cuban leader a speedy recovery range from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to former Cuban shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez, once the subject of a custody battle between relatives in the United States and Cuba.