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Bush Denounces Castro, Meets with Cuban Dissidents - 2003-05-21

President Bush marked Cuban Independence Day Tuesday with a broadcast message to the Cuban people and a meeting at the White House with Cuban dissidents who now live in the United States.

In a brief message broadcast to Cuba on Radio Marti, the president spoke in Spanish of his hopes for the Cuban people.

He said he hopes Cubans will soon be able to enjoy the same freedoms and rights as American citizens, adding dictatorships have no place in the Americas.

Mr. Bush carried on that theme during a private meeting at the White House with a group of Cuban dissidents who now live in the United States, and the families of some opposition figures now imprisoned by the Castro government.

Ana Lazara Rodriguez spent 19 years in Cuban jails, and wrote a book about the treatment of women held as political prisoners. She said a pattern of brutality has existed for decades.

"I came to explain to the president that what is important is not that I have spent many years in a political prison, that we have been beaten and confined in isolation for one year or two years sometimes, but what is important is those things continue happening in Cuba and the world must stop that," she said.

Both the broadcast and the meeting were designed to showcase U.S. support for the opposition movement in Cuba on that country's Independence Day, May 20. Last year, the president marked the occasion with a speech in Miami, Florida, the heart of the Cuban-American community.