He says the U.S. will help the nation if it turns to democracy after
Castro is gone.
By James Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
11:55 AM PDT, October 24, 2007
WASHINGTON -- President Bush today promised U.S. assistance for Cuba if
it adopted democracy in the post-Fidel Castro era, and called on Cuban
authorities to abandon the iron-grip practices of their regime.
He proposed a series of measures intended to given Cubans greater access
to the rest of the world -- through scholarships and computer and
Internet access -- and said the United States would spearhead an
international fund to support the island nation if it provided broad
freedoms to its people.
But now that Castro has handed over much of his control to younger
brother Raul, Bush said that simply "exchanging one dictator for
another" would not be sufficient. Nor, he said, would maintaining
"tyranny in the interest of stability."
Rather, he said at a speech at the State Department before government
officials, members of Congress and others with strong interest in Cuba's
transition -- among them an invited group of family members of current
Cuban political prisoners -- Cuba must allow freedom of speech,
association and the press, and change its government through regular,
free and fair multiparty elections.
He noted that his speech was being carried to Cuba by the U.S.
government-supported Radio Marti and TV Marti.
In one section of his remarks, directed at members of the island's
military and police and government officials, Bush said: "You've got to
make a choice. Will you defend a disgraced and dying order ... or will
you endorse your people's desire for change?
The president noted the changes of the last three decades that had
brought democracy to Eastern Europe, Spain and Chile as examples Cuba
might follow in achieving a peaceful transition.
With Fidel Castro, 81, in questionable health and keeping largely out of
the public eye, Bush said that "the day is coming when the Cuban people
will chart their own course for a better life ... and have the freedom
they have awaited for so long."
He also said the United States would continue to maintain its trade
embargo on Cuba, which he said the government there used as a
"scapegoat" for the island's economic woes and lack of consumer goods.
The U.S. government argues that relaxing the embargo would only enrich
Cuba's leaders and maintain their grip on political and economic life.
The goal of the U.S. policy, a senior administration official said
before Bush spoke, was "to break the absolute control the regime holds
over the material resources that Cubans need to live and prosper."