Bush calls for reforms in Cuba

Substantial steps required for embargo's end, he says

Castro's is `a bankrupt ideology'

Stance sets him against Carter, some in GOP

May 21, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MIAMI - President Bush lashed out at Fidel Castro yesterday, saying he would not lift a trade embargo against Cuba without substantial reforms, and was greeted by roars of approval from thousands of Cuban-Americans during the speech in a state critical to the president's re-election campaign in 2004.

"Nearly a half-century ago, Cuba's independence and the hopes for democracy were hijacked by a brutal dictator who cares everything for his own power and nada for the Cuban people," Bush said. "In an era where markets have brought prosperity and empowerment, this leader clings to a bankrupt ideology that has brought Cuba's workers and farmers and families nothing - nothing - but isolation and misery."

Bush's remarks, made on the 100th anniversary of Cuban independence, placed him directly opposite the recommendations made by former President Jimmy Carter, who called for an easing of the economic sanctions last week when he became the most prominent U.S. politician to visit the island since Castro took power in 1959.

The president's pronouncements were also at odds with Democrats and a number of Republicans in Congress, who consider an approach that Castro has endured for more than four decades to be outdated and ineffective.

But Bush said that he would consider lifting the embargo, as well as travel restrictions to the island, only if Castro met a broad range of democratic and economic reforms.

"Then, and only then, I will explore ways with the United States Congress to ease economic sanctions," Bush said to chants from the crowd of "Libertad! Libertad!"

The president also threatened to veto any attempt by Congress to ease trade restrictions to the island.

Farm state Republicans have been pushing for liberalized trade with Cuba, and two years ago, Congress passed a measure allowing food exports to Cuba, though anti-Castro lawmakers placed a number of restrictions on those sales.

"I want you to know that I know what trade means with a tyrant," Bush said. "It means that we will underwrite tyranny, and we cannot let that happen."

Yesterday morning at the White House, the president said Castro - Bush never once referred to him as "President Castro" - had "turned a beautiful island into a prison."

Bush's remarks at the James L. Knight Center here were a more rollicking version of a speech the president made earlier in the day at the White House and were the end result of a five-month administration review of Cuba policy.

Bush laid out a long list of conditions that Cuba must meet before the administration would consider a change of policy.

Specifically, the president demanded that Castro release all political prisoners and give opposition political candidates in Cuba's National Assembly elections in 2003 the freedom to organize, assemble and speak.

"For 43 years, every election in Cuba has been a fraud and a sham," Bush said. "Mr. Castro, once, just once, show that you're unafraid of a real election."

Bush also demanded that Castro allow international human rights organizations to monitor those elections.

The president's remarks drew criticism from Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat.

"President Bush has set forth a laundry list of actions that the Castro government must take before the U.S. takes even one step toward modifying U.S. policies," he said in a statement. "By doing so he has guaranteed that the current political system in Cuba will remain the same - as it has for the last 40 years that the U.S. has pursued this ill-advised policy."

But the president's position was enthusiastically applauded by huge numbers of Cuban-Americans, who were essential to Bush's slender victory in Florida, and the presidential election, in 2000. The Cuban-American community is also important to this year's re-election campaign of the president's younger brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.

Last night the brothers were the guests of honor at a $2 million fund-raiser for the Florida Republican Party at the home in Coral Gables of Armando Codina, a Cuban-American real estate developer and a former business partner of Jeb Bush. Contributors paid $25,000 per couple to attend, and most of the money was expected to go to Jeb Bush's campaign. The White House closed the event to the press.

Although underscoring a hard line toward Cuba, the president said he would take minor steps to ease life for Cubans living under the Castro regime.

He said his administration would support private organizations that aid Cuba and would provide scholarships in the United States to Cuban students, professionals and children of political prisoners.

In addition, Bush said he was willing to negotiate resuming direct mail service between the United States and Cuba and that he would "continue to look for ways" to modernize Radio and TV Marti, American government broadcasts in Cuba.

Bush's speech was delivered at a sometimes raucous event at which Jeb Bush delivered remarks almost entirely in Spanish and Gloria Estefan sang the Cuban national anthem.

"Ironically, the citizens of Cuba are still waiting for the freedoms embodied in this anthem," Estefan said from the stage.

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