New American Envoy Predicts Big Change in Cuba After Castro

America’s newest top diplomat to Cuba is predicting that the Communist nation will change from its current system even if dictator Fidel Castro stays in power for many more years.

Michael Parmly, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, told Reuters news service he could not be specific as to what kind of change will occur on the island or when or how it will happen.

Parmly cited his experience as an American diplomat in Romania where he witnessed the ouster of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in the early 1990s as proof that people will rise up and topple Communist regimes. Ceausescu was later executed by the new Romanian government.

But in Cuba, Parmly envisions “revolt spreading like wildfire in the streets.”

“You cannot predict these things, but you do try to prepare for them when you are pretty sure they are coming, and I am pretty sure it is coming,” Parmly said.

Last weekend, Parmly met with several anti-Castro dissidents in Havana. After that meeting, he denounced the Castro government for doing what he called “intimidating opponents by sending angry mobs to demonstrate outside their homes.” He called the Castro government action “a disgusting practice” that he said recalled Nazi brown shirts and the Ku Klux Klan.

Parmly said Cuba’s budding pro-democracy movement has not been stalled by a severe crackdown launched by Castro in March 2003, which landed dozens of dissidents in prison with sentences of up to 28 years.

"The courage with which more and more people continue to speak out despite strong pressure from the regime tells me that the change is occurring," he said.

Many analysts have said that Cubans have faced hardships since the collapse of the Soviet Union because that country provided the Castro government with huge sums of money before the Soviet government collapsed during the 1980’s.

Parmly succeeded James Cason, now U.S. ambassador to Paraguay, who was ridiculed by the Castro government as “Mr. Transition” because of his outspokenness and efforts to change Cuba.

Parmly had worked in Afghanistan and postwar Bosnia before going to Cuba. He worked in efforts to build democracy in both of those countries.

Fidel Castro, 79, has repeatedly said he has no plans to step down. Speculation for years has been that his brother, Raul Castro, would succeed him should he die or leave power. Raul is Cuba’s head of Armed Forces.

The United States broke diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961. The U.S. Interests Section was set up during the Carter Administration.

President Bush has repeatedly said he will not lift the trade embargo or travel restrictions against Cuba until Castro frees political prisoners and allows free elections.

Current law allows Americans to visit and spend money in Cuba, but only if they have official permission from the Treasury Department.

Authorized groups include journalists, family members of Cuban nationals, humanitarian workers and students on educational missions.