Bush to urge Cubans to push for democracy

Campaign News | Wednesday, 24 October 2007

By Andrew Ward in Washington, Financial Times

George W. Bush will make on Wednesday a direct appeal to the Cuban military to side with the forces of democracy against Fidel Castro’s “dying regime”.

The US president will also urge the international community to settle its differences over Cuba and unify behind efforts to bring change to the island.

Mr Bush will make the remarks in a rare speech on Cuba policy at the US state department, amid signs that Mr Castro’s 48-year rule could be nearing its end.

The ailing 81 year-old Cuban president has not appeared in public since handing day-to-day control to his younger brother, Raul, in July last year.

Mr Bush will implore regime members, particularly those in the military and security forces, to embrace the opportunity for change as the country enters a period of leadership transition. He will tell regime members that there would be a role in a democratic Cuba for those who support the country’s evolution towards a free society.

Details of the speech were provided in advance by a senior administration official.

Mr Bush will propose the creation of an “international freedom fund” that would provide an incentive for Havana to embrace democracy. Donations would be sought from the international community and made available to Cuba once its government had proved its commitment to reform.

The president will warn the international community against accepting continuation of communist rule in the country after Mr Castro has gone.

“Life will not improve for Cubans under the current system,” said the administration official, previewing Mr Bush’s speech. “It will not improve by exchanging one dictator for another, and it will not improve in any way by seeking accommodation with a new tyranny for the sake of stability.”

The speech signals US concern that what it views as an historic opportunity for change in Cuba risks being squandered by lack of international will.

“Now is the time to put aside the differences that have existed amongst the international community,” Mr Bush will say, according to the US official. “The international community needs to be prepared for that moment of change.”

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic will be praised for their staunch support for pro-democracy forces in Cuba and other countries urged to follow suit.

The president will declare that the US policy is to put freedom ahead of stability in a country that lies just 90 miles off the Florida coast. “The way to get to a stable Cuba is through the Cuban people being given their freedom and fundamental rights,” said the official.

Mr Bush is expected to give a strong defence of the US trade embargo against Cuba, arguing that lifting of the restrictions would “further enrich and strengthen the regime and their grip on the political and economic life of the island”.

Policy towards Cuba could become an issue in next year’s US presidential election as Mr Castro’s failing health focuses attention on the island.

Cuba policy is watched most closely in Florida - one of the most pivotal battleground states in US presidential politics - because of its proximity to the island and its large population of Cuban exiles, most of whom strongly support the embargo.

Mr Bush will tell Cubans that they have “the power to shape their destiny”, drawing parallels with countries in Europe and Latin America that have won struggles against totalitarianism.

“One of the success stories of the last several years has been the overall advance of economic and political freedom across Latin America,” said the US official. “Juxtaposed against that is the fact that there is still one country that traps its citizens in a failed system, and that country is Cuba.”


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