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Bush Reaffirms Hardline Cuba Policies - 2002-05-20


President Bush says U.S. sanctions on Cuba will stay in place until Cuban leader Fidel Castro implements wide-ranging reforms. In speeches in Washington and Miami, Mr. Bush challenged the Castro government to allow free and fair elections and liberalize the Cuban economy.

In a part of Miami called "Little Havana" the president vowed to keep the sanctions in place until Cuba is free. Mr. Bush said, "We are here today to proclaim loudly and clearly to the entire world that the Cuban people's love of liberty cannot and will not be denied."

The crowd roared its approval as the president called Fidel Castro a tyrant who jails or exiles anyone who challenges his rule. Speaking on Cuban Independence Day, Mr. Bush said Cuba must not only be independent, Cuba must be free. "One hundred years ago," he said, "Cuba declared her independence and nearly fifty years ago - nearly a half-century ago - Cuba's independence and the hopes for democracy were hijacked by a brutal dictator who cares only for his own power and 'nada' [not at all] for the Cuban people."

The president moving from English to Spanish and back again in his speech said the leader of Communist Cuba must show the world that he is serious about reforms and bettering the lives of all Cubans.

Mr. Bush called on the Castro government to hold free and fair elections, release political prisoners, permit opposition parties and independent trade unions, and adopt market reforms. "Full normalization of relations with Cuba, diplomatic recognition, open trade and a robust aid program, will only be possible when Cuba has a new government that is fully democratic, when the rule of law is respected, when the Cuban rights of all Cubans are protected," he continued.

But the president made clear that while he keeps pressure on Fidel Castro, he will do all he can to help the Cuban people. He said he would facilitate shipments of aid through non-governmental organizations, and would take steps to resume mail service between Cuba and the United States. "We hurt for the people in Cuba," he said. "We long for a day when they realize the same freedoms we have here in America."

The president's reaffirmation of his hardline anti-Castro stand followed a trip to Cuba by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. During his visit, Mr. Carter called on the Bush administration to lift the trade embargo, saying it would help the Cuban people.

White House officials insist the speeches in Washington and Miami were planned months ago, long before Jimmy Carter announced he would go to Havana. The former president's trip highlighted the trade issue, but the dispute over Cuba sanctions has been going on for some time, with moves in Congress to ease the ban on shipments of certain goods. While in Florida, President Bush stressed he would veto any effort in Congress to ease the four decades old trade sanctions.

Florida played a key role in the 2000 U.S. presidential election. The Cuban-American community is very active politically and usually votes Republican. Their support could be crucial to the re-election campaign of Governor Jeb Bush, the president's younger brother. And President Bush will need them should he run for a second term in office in 2004.

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