Bush won't ease Cuba trade, travel ban
MIAMI (CNN) -- Denouncing Fidel Castro as a "tyrant" and "a relic from another era," President Bush vowed Monday not to ease the nearly 40-year-old trade and travel ban on Cuba until political and economic reforms come to that island nation.
He also called for "free and fair" elections in 2003 and for the release of all political prisoners.
"The dream of a free and independent Cuba has been deferred, but it can never be destroyed, and it will not be denied," Bush said during a speech in Miami, where he was enthusiastically applauded by the city's politically vocal Cuban-American community.
His speech followed a similar address at the White House in which he outlined the steps Castro must take before the United States would ease its embargo, which former President Jimmy Carter criticized during his historic trip there last week.
"Well-intentioned ideas about trade will merely prop up this dictator, enrich his cronies and enhance the totalitarian regime," Bush said. "It will not help the Cuban people."
In Miami, Bush vowed to use his veto power to kill any legislation that seeks to ease the embargo.
To "accelerate freedom" in Cuba, Bush said he would ease restrictions on humanitarian assistance to Cuba by U.S. religious and nongovernmental organizations.
The United States would provide such groups "with direct assistance" that could be used for humanitarian and entrepreneurial activities, he said.
He said he is "willing to negotiate direct mail service between the United States and Cuba."
The president said the United States would offer scholarships in the United States for some Cuban students and professionals who "try to build independent civil institutions in Cuba," as well as some for family members of political prisoners.
Bush's comments were strongly criticized by some Democrats, who said the embargo has proved to be an ineffective means of bringing change to Cuba.
"The specific package of proposals announced by the administration is much ado about nothing, quite candidly," said Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.
Many Republicans, meanwhile, voiced support for the president's approach, saying any ease on the embargo would only embolden and strengthen Castro.
Bush, who sprinkled both of his speeches Monday with phrases in Spanish, said he would also "look for ways to modernize Radio and TV Marti" to open a flood of information into Cuba.
Cuba is scheduled to hold National Assembly elections next year. Bush said Cuba must open those elections to independent observers to ensure they are fair.
"All elections in Castro's Cuba have been a fraud," Bush said. "The voices of the Cuban people have been suppressed and their votes have been meaningless. That's the truth."
Bush made no direct mention of Carter in his speech, but he made it clear that he does not support the former president's ideas.
"Full normalization of relations with Cuba, diplomatic recognition, open trade and a robust aid program will only be possible when Cuba has a new government that is fully democratic, when the rule of law is respected and when the human rights of all Cubans are fully protected," Bush said.
Political leaders and candidates, especially Republicans, have long courted the Cuban-American vote in Florida, believing it could be significant in elections. Florida is governed by the president's brother, Jeb.
In Cuba, dissidents who listened to Bush's speech -- which, unlike Carter's, was not broadcast on state television -- had mixed reactions.
Elizardo Sanchez, a human rights activist, said he agreed with Bush's comments on human rights, but said Bush employed rhetoric from the Cold War.
He described Carter's comments as "more fruitful and positive than what was said by the honorable George W. Bush."
Hector Palacios, another dissident, said he was "very much in agreement" with Bush's speech, especially when he talked about property rights for Cubans.
But Vladimiro Roca, an opposition leader recently released from prison, said he did not agree with Bush's proposal that the United States provide aid to nongovernmental groups helping Cuba.
Bush was scheduled to attend a fund-raiser Monday night for the Florida Republican Party. Jeb Bush is up for re-election this November.
ALLPOLITICS TOP STORIES:
Karzai to U.S.: 'Stay with us'
Coast Guard joins Homeland Department
Frist offers hope to governors
Suit alleges hostility to Hispanic voters
CBS: Saddam challenges Bush to debate
|Back to the top|