* Story Highlights
* President Bush challenges other nations to support democracy in Cuba
* Bush: "Dissidents of today will be the nation's leaders"
* President tries to seize on Cuban leader's ailing health as
chance for change
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush blistered Fidel Castro's government in
Cuba on Wednesday and challenged the world to help the people of the
communist island shed Castro's rule and become a free society.
"Now is the time to support the democratic movement growing on the
island," Bush said in an address at the U.S. State Department. "Now is
the time to stand with the Cuban people as they stand up for their
liberty. And now is the time for the world to put aside its differences
and prepare for Cuban's transitions to a future of freedom and progress
Bush added, "The dissidents of today will be the nation's leaders. And
when freedom finally comes, they will surely remember who stood with them."
In his first major address on Cuban policy in four years, Bush sought to
refocus world attention on life in Cuba under Castro. He spoke of
citizens there who he said have no freedom of employment or expression,
who live in dire circumstances and who fear beatings for pursuing the
lives they want.
"As with all totalitarian systems, Cuba's regime no doubt has other
horrors still unknown to the rest of the world," Bush said. "Once
revealed, they will shock the conscience of humanity, and they will
shame the regime's defenders and all those democracies that had been
In a brief essay published Tuesday, Castro pre-empted Bush's address,
saying that the U.S. leader is threatening the world with nuclear war
and widespread famine.
"The danger of a massive world famine is aggravated by Mr. Bush's recent
initiative to transform foods into fuel," the 81-year-old wrote,
referring to U.S. support for alternative energy initiatives using corn
and other food crops to produce biofuels.
Castro went on to write that by "calling on strategic security
principles, [Bush] threatens humanity with World War III, this time
using atomic weapons."