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Bush takes tougher Cuba line

By CNN Correspondents John King and Major Garrett

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President George W. Bush has marked the seventh anniversary of the ramming of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat by renewing support for economic and travel sanctions against Cuba.

Forty-one passengers drowned after the vessel, filled with people trying to flee Fidel Castro's regime, was rammed by a Cuban gunboat.

Bush denounced the Communist government's "complicity" in "this and other crimes -- crimes that should not go unpunished, against innocent civilians and countless other human rights violations over the years."

Castro's critics say the boat, was sunk by Cuban gunboats on July 13, 1994 with Amnesty International saying it had evidence from eyewitnesses asserting that four Cuban vessels pursued the tugboat until it sank. According to Castro it was an accident.

The president called sanctions "not just a policy tool, but a moral statement" and said he would oppose "any attempt to weaken sanctions against Cuba until it respects the basic human rights of its citizens, frees political prisoners, holds democratic free elections, and allows free speech."

Bush also said that he had ordered the Treasury Department to "enhance and expand" enforcement of economic sanctions against Cuba.

"It is important," Bush said in a statement, "that we uphold and enforce the law to the fullest extent with a view toward preventing unlicensed and excessive travel, enforcing limits on remittances, and ensuring humanitarian and cultural exchanges actually reach pro-democracy activists in Cuba."

Bush also pledged to increase support for human rights activists, the democratic opposition and non-governmental organizations to work on "pro-democracy programs in Cuba" saying his "number one priority" was ensuring Radio and TV Marti are "broadcast clearly to Cuba allowing every Cuban citizen access to accurate news and information."

To achieve this goal, Bush said, he had instructed Salvador Lew, director of the office of Cuba Broadcasting, "to use all available means to overcome the jamming of Radio and TV Marti."

But, under pressure from key European allies, Bush appears poised to continue blocking suits by U.S. citizens against those who have benefited from property seized by Cuba following the 1959 revolution.

The so-called Helms-Burton law allows such suits but a provision allowing the president to suspend or waive the provision for six months at a time was routinely used by the President Bill Clinton.

During his campaign, Bush had said he believed U.S. citizens whose assets were seized should have the right to sue but two senior U.S. officials said Bush was set to issue a six-month waiver next week.

Canada and U.S. allies in Europe oppose the move because companies in their countries who have hotel and other commercial interests in Cuba could then be open to legal action.

By suspending the law, Bush risks alienating Cuban-American voters, whose support helped him narrowly win the pivotal state of Florida in the 2000 presidential election.


• Bush to Waive Helms-Burton Law
July 13, 2001

• White House

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