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Bush Speech Gets Mixed Review From Cuban Exiles


Cuban exiles in the Unites States have welcomed President Bush's speech about Cuba in which he voiced support for pro-democracy efforts. But VOA's Brian Wagner reports that some exiles in Miami say the president's latest initiatives do not go far enough to encourage change.

The Cuban population of south Florida was listening closely to the president's speech for signs of possible change in U.S. policy toward the Communist regime of Fidel Castro.

Orlando Gutierrez, secretary of the pro-democracy Cuban Democratic Directorate, said he welcomed Mr. Bush's promise to continue pressing Cuba's government for democratic reforms.

He says as a representative of the Cuban people who are fighting for change, he thinks Mr. Bush showed that he supports the resistance efforts in Cuba.

Gutierrez said he expects many Cubans on the island will listen to international broadcasts of the speech, in which Mr. Bush appealed directly to the Cuban people. The president said the Cubans have the power to shape their own destiny, and he told Cuba's military that there is a place for them in a free Cuba.

Gutierrez says the direct messages are important to help Cubans understand what is happening off the island.

He said many Cubans want to hear what President Bush said because there are winds of change in Cuba and the people want to know what Washington thinks about the developments.

Mr. Bush unveiled in his speech new initiatives for Cuba, such as granting licenses for non-governmental groups to take Internet-enabled computers to Cuba and creating new scholarships to bring Cuban students to the United States.

Uva de Aragon, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, was not impressed with the package because, she says, Cuban officials are unlikely to allow its implementation.

She says Washington should instead focus on areas where it can have a real impact, such as ending restrictions that bar scholars and Cuban exiles in the United States from traveling to the island.

"We should do more for having students go there [to Cuba] and having professors go there and having family go there because they also take information," said Uva de Aragon.

De Aragon said that loosening the decades-old embargo may help encourage democratic and free-market reforms in Cuba, and weaken the government's hold on power. But she says the embargo remains a controversial topic in the Cuban exile community and will likely remain a part of U.S. policy as long as the Castro regime remains in power.

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