Bush calls Cuba `a tropical gulag'
President Bush unleashed a blistering attack on Cuba's communist
government in a speech defining his position during Havana's transition.
Posted on Thu, Oct. 25, 2007
BY FRANCES ROBLES AND PABLO BACHELET
The six relatives of Cuban dissidents flanked President Bush in the
chandeliered Benjamin Franklin hall at the State Department as he
delivered a withering attack on Havana.
He had brought them there, Bush told the audience, to show ``the faces
of those who suffer as a result of the human rights abuses on the island
some 90 miles from our shore.''
''These are just a few of the examples of the terror and trauma that is
Cuba today,'' Bush said. ``The socialist paradise is a tropical gulag.''
The harsh words came as Bush gave what aides called a defining speech
for his U.S. position on post-Fidel Castro Cuba -- urging the security
forces to let democracy prevail on the island, and scolding other
nations for failing to speak out about Cuba and help dissidents there.
He was applauded 20 times, mostly by Cuban Americans and U.S. officials
present. Invited foreign diplomats mostly held their applause until the end.
Bush broke little new policy ground in an event that organizers said had
been in the works for months. But the context loomed large: Fidel
Castro, 81, has been ailing for more than a year, and his brother and
designated successor, Raúl, is consolidating his power.
So Bush used the occasion to draw a line: There will be no concessions
to Cuba's communist government.
''It was important for us to define ourselves,'' said Thomas Shannon,
the State Department's top diplomat for Latin America.
CONDITIONS FOR AID
Bush promised computers to access the Internet and scholarships for
Cuban children and announced the creation of an international fund to
assist Cuba. But before any of this can happen, he said, Cuba has to
meet several conditions: freedom of speech, association and press, as
well as freedom for political parties and multiparty elections.
Many foreign governments also favor those changes but argue that more
can be accomplished by engaging Cuba than turning up the pressure on the
Bush said those nations would have to respond for their actions.
''As with all totalitarian systems, Cuba's regime no doubt has other
horrors still unknown to the rest of the world. Once revealed, they will
shock the conscience of humanity,'' he said. ``And they will shame the
regime's defenders and all those democracies that have been silent.''
Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez said Bush's speech ``exposes the
shame of those governments that today choose stability and transfer of
powers between dictators as a solution to Cuba's future.''
Bush also made it clear that if things became messy in Cuba, so be it.
'The operative word in our future dealings with Cuba is not `stability,'
'' he said. 'The operative word is `freedom.' ''
To Cuba's armed forces: ''Will you defend a disgraced and dying order by
using force against your own people?'' he asked. ``Or will you embrace
your people's desire for change? There is a place for you in the free
Bush invoked Miami singer Willy Chirino's famed anti-Castro song three
times, telling Cubans that Su día ya viene llegando -- your day is
U.S. Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who is one of Castro's
harshest critics, hailed the pitch to the armed forces.
''The regime will enter into a profound crisis when it has to announce
the death of the tyrant,'' he said. For Bush to tell the armed forces
''you can have a role in a democratic Cuba but don't fire on the people,
don't stand in the way of the transition'' was ``critically important at
Martinez compared the speech to President Reagan's 1987 memorable ''tear
down this wall'' exhortation to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
``It's a different moment, a different historical moment, very different
circumstances, but I do think it had that kind of weight, it was that
kind of a significant moment.''
Havana reacted angrily.
Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque called Bush's plans the ''equivalent
to the re-conquest of Cuba by force'' and noted that Bush will be
leaving office in early 2009.
''You are packing your bags to go,'' he said. ``You are dangerous. You
have power, but you do not have support.''
At a White House news briefing, Press Secretary Dana Perino was asked if
Bush was ``obsessed with Cuba.''
``The president is obsessed with human rights -- if that is an
accusation that they want to lodge against the president, we'll take it
as a compliment.''
Some diplomats were disappointed at Bush's speech.
''When you convoke the foreign diplomatic corps, you expect it's going
to be something new, a new initiative. It was really disappointing,''
said one Western diplomat who requested anonymity because he was not
authorized to speak on the matter. ``It was really nothing.''
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama also criticized the
speech, saying ``the cause of freedom will not be advanced by
counter-productive threats or conventional thinking.''
In Miami's Cuban exile community, the speech was well-received by many,
though the Cuban American National Foundation said that ``regrettably,
we are still left today without a clear strategy to help bring about
meaningful and lasting change.''
Diego Suarez, head of the conservative Cuban Liberty Council, applauded
Bush's direct message for Cuban citizens, children and the members of
''I think the president's speech could be a catalyst to open the door in
Cuba . . . for the people to lose their fear,'' he said.
Miami Herald staff writers Lesley Clark and Casey Woods contributed to