By Andrew Ward in Washington
Published: October 24 2007 08:21 | Last updated: October 24 2007 19:09
George W. Bush made a direct appeal to the Cuban armed forces on
Thursday to side with the forces of democratic opposition to Fidel
Castro's "dying regime".
In remarks seemingly aimed at countries such as Spain, which has
developed extensive relations with Cuba, Mr Bush also called on the
international community not to accept continued communist rule in the
country after Mr Castro has gone.
Mr Bush was making a rare speech on Cuba policy at the state department,
amid signs that Mr Castro's 48-year rule could be nearing its end. The
ailing 81-year-old Cuban president has not appeared in public except on
television since handing day-to-day control to his younger brother,
Raul, in July last year.
Mr Bush implored Cuban regime members, particularly in the military and
security forces, to embrace the opportunity for change as the country
enters a period of leadership transition. He predicted there would be
roles in a democratic Cuba for regime members who support the country's
evolution towards a free society.
Mr Bush is proposed the creation of an "international freedom fund" to
provide an incentive for Havana to embrace democracy. Donations would be
sought from the international community and made available to Cuba once
its government proved its commitment to reform.
"Life will not improve for Cubans under the current system," said an
administration official, previewing Mr Bush's speech. "It will not
improve by exchanging one dictator for another, and it will not improve
in any way by seeking accommodation with a new tyranny for the sake of
The speech signalled US concern that what it views as an opportunity for
change risks being squandered by lack of international will to pressure
"Now is the time to put aside the differences that have existed amongst
the international community," Mr Bush said. "The international community
needs to be prepared for that moment of change."
The US has been isolated for many years in its policy towards Cuba with
the United Nations consistently voting to lift the embargo against the
island. Last year's vote saw it outnumbered 183 votes to four.
Mr Bush made a strong defence of the US trade embargo against Cuba,
arguing that lifting of the restrictions would "further enrich and
strengthen the regime and its grip on the political and economic life of
Policy towards Cuba could become an issue in next year's US presidential
election as Mr Castro's failing health focuses attention on the island.
Cuba policy is watched closely in Florida due to its proximity to the
island and its large population of Cuban exiles, most of whom strongly
support the embargo.