Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bush Urges Support for Democratic Change in Cuba

Bush Urges Support for Democratic Change in Cuba

By Roger Runningen and Nadine Elsibai

Oct. 24 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush said the Castro regime
in Cuba is fighting against a tide of freedom in Latin America and the
international community has an obligation to assist and support
pro-democracy forces.

In an address that was broadcast to Cuba, Bush urged Cubans to continue
pressing for more freedom and called on Cuba's armed forces and police
to not cooperate with any attempt to suppress that movement.

``Calls for fundamental changes are growing across the island,'' Bush
said today at the State Department in Washington. People there ``hear
the dying gasps of a failed regime.''

The president urged Congress to show support for Cuba ``by maintaining
our embargo on the dictatorship until it changes.'' Fidel Castro uses
the embargo ``as a scapegoat for Cuba's miseries,'' he said.

Castro, the 81-year-old Cuban president, is recuperating from surgery.
His health has been a subject of speculation since he handed over daily
tasks to his brother Raul in July 2006.

Life in Cuba ``will not improve by exchanging one dictator for
another,'' Bush said. ``It will not improve if we seek accommodation
with a new tyranny in the interest of stability.''

Castro's Health

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said earlier that the U.S. doesn't
have any new information or insight into Castro's health. ``He's
entering his twilight years,'' she said. Bush's intention is to focus
world attention on the ``groundswell'' of support for democracy in Cuba,
Perino said.

USA Engage, a coalition of businesses, agricultural groups and trade
associations opposed to U.S. sanctions on Cuba, called Bush's Cuba
speech ``baffling.''

``Today's stale approach fails to acknowledge that American citizens are
the greatest ambassadors of democracy, freedom and hope to the Cuban
people,'' USA Engage Director Jake Colvin said in a statement after
Bush's speech. ``Our policies make such contact virtually impossible,
and threaten to make the United States irrelevant on the island.''

To illustrate his message, Bush introduced several family members of
political prisoners in Cuba. They fled a ``police state'' where freedoms
are few and people are imprisoned for assembling in groups more than
three, he said.

``They've seen relatives imprisoned for supporting liberty,'' Bush said
of one family of several Cuban guests at his speech.

Offer of Aid

Bush said the U.S. is prepared to help Cuban people, ``but only if the
Cuban regime -- the ruling class -- gets out of the way.'' That includes
licensing non-government organizations and faith-based groups to provide
computers and Internet access to the people if Cuba ends restrictions on
Internet access ``for all the people.''

An administration official who briefed reporters about the speech
acknowledged that the regime was unlikely to accept the terms of the offer.

The president also called for establishment of an international
``freedom fund'' to assist the Cuban people when the time comes for the
government to change.

``Now is the time for the world to put aside its differences and prepare
for Cuba's transition to a future of freedom and progress and promise,''
Bush said.

To get the aid, Cuba would be required to demonstrate that it's adopted
democratic reforms, including free speech, press and association,
freedom to form political parties and ``the freedom to change the
government through periodic, multi-party elections,'' Bush said.

Once such changes are underway, the fund would grant Cuban entrepreneurs
access to grants, loans and debt relief to help rebuild the country, he

To contact the reporter on this story: Roger Runningen in Washington
<> ; Nadine Elsibai
in Washington
Last Updated: October 24, 2007 14:24 EDT


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