Posted on Wed, Oct. 24, 2007
BY FRANCES ROBLES
In his first speech addressing Cuba in four years, President Bush
offered the island computers, scholarships and a multibillion-dollar
reconstruction fund -- but only if the government gives people their
He spoke Wednesday afternoon at the State Department in Washington
during a gathering attended by members of Congress, foreign diplomats
and relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents.
Greeting them with ''Bienvenidos,'' Bush said Cuban dissidents ''hear
the gasps of a dying failed regime.'' One relative of Omar Pernet,
serving a 25-year prison sentence, stood up and wept.
Despite having just 15 months left in office, Bush made it clear that he
won't compromise with Havana, saying he favors freedom over stability.
Among Bush's highlights:
• He offered to give nongovernmental and faith-based groups U.S.
licenses to provide computers to Cubans -- if Havana ends its
restrictions to Internet access.
• He offered to give scholarships to ''young people whose family suffer
oppression'' -- if the Cuban government allows them to freely participate.
• Bush named Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Commerce Secretary
Carlos Gutiérrez to spearhead an international freedom fund, putting
them in charge of getting other countries and aid groups to donate
funds. The money would go toward loans to entrepreneurs and debt relief
-- only if Havana recognizes the rights to free speech, free
association, freedom of the press, political parties and free elections.
''The operative word here is not stability,'' Bush said. ``The operative
word is freedom.''
Noting that the speech was being transmitted live to Cuba -- by Radio
and TV Martí -- the president directed portions of his address to Cubans
on the island, peppering his speech with the Spanish phrase ''Nuestro
día ya viene llegando'' -- ``Our day is coming soon.''
It was Bush's first address devoted to Cuba since 2003, and only his
fourth since assuming the presidency. It comes as interim Havana leader
Raúl Castro appears to be firmly in power and many nations are doing
business as usual with a man who appears to be the permanent replacement
for the ailing Fidel Castro.
Bush thanked the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland for calling for more
freedoms in Cuba. He said the opposition in Cuba -- Cuba's future
leaders -- will remember who stood behind them when freedom comes. It is
unclear whether the Cuban government would even permit such imports or
scholarships. The Cuban government has long complained that the island
lacks Internet access not because of a lack of freedom, but because the
U.S. trade embargo prevents the government from purchasing the fiber
optic cables needed for broader access.
''The source of suffering is not the embargo, it's the system,'' Bush
said. ``Trade with the government would not help the people in Cuba. . .
. It would enrich the elites in power and help strengthen their grip on
The Cuban government reacted harshly, even before Bush's speech.
On Sunday, Castro said Bush ''is obsessed with Cuba,'' and later accused
him of being a nuclear war monger whose policies encourage famine.
Bush's speech, Castro noted, came a week before a scheduled vote before
the United Nations condemning the trade embargo.
Miami Herald staff writer Pablo Bachelet contributed to this report.