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Bush Announces Tougher Cuba Policies - 2003-10-10

President Bush has announced measures he says will strengthen efforts to bring about political change in Cuba.

President Bush says he is acting to hasten the arrival of democracy in Cuba, after President Fidel Castro ignored his offer to improve relations and ease a trade embargo, if Cuba held free elections and allowed more popular dissent.

"The dictator has responded with defiance and contempt and a new round of brutal oppression that outraged the world's conscience," he said.

Because, he says, Mr. Castro will clearly not change on his own, the president announced a series of actions to bring about what he called, the "happy day" when the Cuban president is no longer in power.

Mr. Bush says he will improve the processing of Cuban immigrants, and increase the number of visas offered to help more people reach America safely.

He says U.S. agents will strengthen enforcement of existing restrictions against American travel to Cuba, including those who pass through third countries. Currently, U.S. nationals are allowed to make that trip only if they are visiting family, conducting research, or engaged in humanitarian operations.

Mr. Bush says the Department of Homeland Security will more closely monitor that legal travel because he says too often those people are engaged in illegal activities.

Speaking to U.S. legislators and Cuban-American leaders at the White House, the president said he will increase U.S. government information to the island, including print, Internet and radio and television broadcasts.

Mr. Bush announced a new commission on Cuba to be co-chaired by Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez, who is the Bush administration's highest ranking Cuban-American.

"They will draw upon experts within our government to plan for Cuba's transition from Stalinist rule to a free and open society and to identify ways to hasten the arrival of that day," said Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush says the 40-year-old U.S. embargo against President Castro will remain, until the country holds free and fair elections, allows private enterprise and releases political prisoners.

"Elections in Cuba are still a sham," described Mr. Bush. "Opposition groups still organize and meet at their own peril. Private economic activity is still strangled. Non-government trade unions are still oppressed and suppressed. Property rights are still ignored. And most goods and services produced in Cuba are still reserved for the political elites."

The president spoke at a Rose Garden ceremony on the 135th anniversary of the start of Cuba's war of independence from Spain. He says that struggle continues against Fidel Castro.

The tougher restrictions come as Mr. Bush begins campaigning for next year's presidential election. Florida is again expected to be an important state for the president, and is home to many politically powerful Cuban-Americans, who want tougher action against the government in Havana.