Bush lambasts Cuban 'disgrace'
WASHINGTON — President George Bush yesterday branded the Castro
government a "disgraced and dying order" and urged Cubans to push for
Bush also defended the decades-old policy of stiff US economic sanctions
on Havana in his first formal speech on Cuba since an ailing Fidel
Castro handed power to his younger brother Raul in July last year.
Bush rejected any easing of those sanctions without a full transition to
democracy and said doing so would only bolster the communist
government's grip on power.
Castro, 81, is suffering from an undisclosed intestinal illness and has
not been seen in public in 15 months.
Many analysts believe that a stable transfer of power to Raul Castro has
already taken place and predict slow, modest changes under his rule.
But Bush, reinforcing the administration's hardline policy toward
Havana, said the handover to Raul Castro amounted to merely "exchanging
one dictator for another" and was not acceptable to his administration.
"America will have no part in giving oxygen to a criminal regime
victimising its own people," Bush said in a speech at the state
department, where he appeared with family members of Cuban dissidents.
"We will not support the old way with new faces, the old system held
together by new chains."
Such harsh rhetoric is popular with Cuban-Americans in Florida, a
politically important group. In moves applauded by Cuban exiles, Bush
earlier in his administration tightened already strict economic
sanctions on Cuba.
Aides said Bush had been planning the speech for some time and the
timing was not tied to any particular event.
In his speech — which did not refer by name to Castro — Bush announced
some modest additional measures, such as allowing US-based charities to
offer internet access to Cuban students and inviting Cuban youths to
participate in a scholarship programme.
Bush also called on other nations to support a push for democracy in
Cuba and asked aides to work on an international "freedom fund" that
could help the country once a transition takes place.
Senator Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat and US presidential
candidate, criticised Bush's speech for reiterating a "failed policy"
and urged that the travel ban be lifted.
"Once again President Bush keeps the US on the sidelines as the
transition to a free Cuba is already under way," Dodd said.
But Bush said Cubans were "restive" for the kind of change that he
called a "real revolution" — in contrast to the revolution that brought
Castro to power in 1959.
He also appealed to the Cuban military and security forces not to stand
in the way of a push for political change.
"When Cubans rise up to demand their liberty, the liberty they deserve,
you've got to make a choice: will you defend a disgraced and dying order
by using force against your own people, or will you embrace your
people's desire for change?"
Cuba's government hit back immediately, with Foreign Minister Felipe
Perez Roque saying Bush's comments were a "threat" against Cuba which
would not intimidate the island's people. He was speaking at a news
conference broadcast on Cuban state television. With Bloomberg