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Bush Denies Pressuring Castro to Leave UN Conference - 2002-03-23

President Bush is denying having put any pressure on Cuban President Fidel Castro to leave the United Nations Conference on Financing Development in Monterrey, Mexico. The subject came up at a joint news conference with Mexican President Vicente Fox.

When Presidents Bush and Fox came before the news media at the end of the U.N. conference, Mexican reporters asked both leaders about an incident Thursday involving Cuban President Fidel Castro. Mr. Castro had given a stirring speech calling on rich nations to forgive the debt of impoverished nations and then left the country. Later, the Cuban Foreign Minister blamed the early departure on what he called pressure from the United States.

President Bush denied he had applied any such pressure, but he took the opportunity to re-state his antipathy for Mr. Castro's communist government. "What I am uncomfortable about is the way he treats his people," he said. "There is only one country that is not a democracy in our hemisphere and that is Cuba and it makes me uncomfortable that there is still one country that does not have free press, freedom to speak, freedom to realize your dreams and I feel strongly about that. I am going to continue to speak out on the fact that this island is a place of repression."

President Fox also brushed aside the questions about Fidel Castro's early departure, saying that the Cuban leader had come, given his speech and gone home and that was all there was to it.

The incident comes at a time when there are increasing calls in the United States for an improvement in relations with Cuba and an easing of the economic embargo against the Castro government. The Bush administration, however, maintains that no real change in U.S. policy towards Cuba can come until President Castro allows democratic elections and ends repression of political opponents.