President Bush says Cuba's future form of government is a matter that should be decided by the Cuban people. Mr. Bush made the comments one week after an ailing Cuban President Fidel Castro temporarily handed executive authority to his brother.
President Bush says he has no insight into Fidel Castro's health, beyond what has been reported and speculated. Speaking with reporters at a news conference from his Crawford, Texas ranch, Mr. Bush said the Cuban people should decide their island's future.
"Our desires is for the Cuban people to be able to choose their own form of government," said the president. "And we would hope that - and we will make it very clear - that, as Cuba has the possibility of transforming itself from a tyrannical situation to a different kind of society, the Cuban people ought to decide. The people on the island of Cuba ought to decide."
The president was responding to a question about the rights of Cuban exiles, in a post-Castro era, to one day return to the island and reclaim property confiscated by the Communist regime. Mr. Bush acknowledged the exiles' interest in doing so, but suggested now is not the time to discuss the subject.
"Once the people of Cuba decide the form of government, then Cuban-Americans can take an interest in that country, and redress the issues of property confiscation," said Mr. Bush. "But first things first, and that is the Cuban people need to decide the future of their country."
Cuban officials say President Castro, who turns 80 next week, underwent surgery to stem gastrointestinal bleeding. They say he is already regaining strength, is able to sit up in bed, and that doctors believe he will be able to return to work in several weeks. There has been no independent confirmation of the assertions.
In the interim, Fidel's 75 year-old brother, Raul, has been serving as acting president.
Meanwhile, reports of an ailing Fidel Castro have energized Cuban exiles in Florida and elsewhere, many of whom have expressed a desire to one day return to the island. Cuban officials have reacted with anger to the exiles' jubilation, branding them terrorists.