Washington.– A U.S. commission is preparing to advise President George W. Bush on how to inject democracy into a post-Castro Cuba, but critics say Washington's 40 years of isolating the island may limit its chances of heading off a communist succession.
The report by the Commission on Assistance to a Free Cuba, expected in the next few days, will suggest ways Washington can influence Cubans to turn away from communism and move to democracy and a free-market economy when veteran President Fidel Castro exits, U.S. officials said.
Critics of the U.S. policy, whose cornerstone is a four-decades-old embargo which failed in its aim of forcing the collapse of Castro's government, say Bush's focus ironically has left Washington, not Havana, isolated.
This was reflected in a 182-to-4 United Nations vote last November condemning the embargo, which has failed to unseat Castro, 79, despite tougher enforcement under the Bush presidency.
Bush followed recommendations in the commission's first report in 2004 and severely restricted travel to the island and remittances from Cuban Americans, ignoring calls from some that opening contacts would hasten communism's downfall.
The second report was expected to recommend some tightening of the embargo and emphasize stricter enforcement but officials said it was not likely to include drastic moves. Its focus would be on preparations for the day Castro leaves office.
Bush critics, including some U.S. Congress members, foreign governments and political analysts, say Washington should engage Cuba to encourage better human rights and political change, as with other communist-run countries like China.
The head of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, said it was valid to wonder why Bush had created the office of the Cuba transition assistance coordinator, who writes the report.
"There's no transition and it's not your country," he said.
Bush's hardline policy on Cuba was partly aimed at shoring up support in the Cuban exile community in Florida, a key political state.
Reps. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, and William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat, who head a 50-strong bipartisan group in Congress opposing the U.S. policy, offered preemptive criticism of the report.
"Any hope that an ever-tightening American embargo could force political change has been wiped away," they said in a statement.
"No one can predict how Cuba's political future will evolve. But we can predict that regardless of America's size and economic weight, our deliberate lack of contact and communication will reduce American influences," they said.
With the American food industry allowed to export to Cuba, Flake has proposed legislation that would further loosen the embargo by permitting energy companies to partner with Cuba to drill in the waters of an island roughly 90 miles from the United States.
The Bush administration wants to hold firm against its ideological foe.
"The purpose of the embargo is to prevent Fidel Castro's dictatorial regime from using commerce and trade to fund and strengthen his regime so that he keeps his hold on the Cuban population," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week.
But Philip Peters, of the Virginia-based thinktank the Lexington Institute, said U.S. ambitions for an overhaul of the political and economic systems are counterproductive because they heighten fears in Cuba of turmoil after Castro.