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Globalization - Countries - Cuba

Bush Hardens Stance on Cuba Embargo
by SCOTT LINDLAW, Associated Press Writer 5/20/2002

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush is rejecting pleas from former President Carter and others to ease a 40-year-old trade embargo against Cuba and is instead setting detailed conditions for loosening the ban.

But Bush also proposes to improve the plight of Cuban people with an array of initiatives meant to bolster humanitarian assistance and communication with the island nation.

In a morning speech at the White House on Cuban Independence Day and in an afternoon appearance in Miami, Bush on Monday was reaffirming his support for the embargo, which Carter, human rights groups and dozens of lawmakers from both parties say is a failure.

Bush was demanding far-reaching changes in Cuba's communist political and economic systems before he will consider easing the embargo.

"Without major steps by Cuba to open up its political system and its economic system, trade with Cuba will not help the Cuban people; it will merely enrich Castro and his cronies and prop up their dictatorship," Bush said in excerpts of prepared remarks released late Sunday.

"With real political and economic reform, trade can benefit the Cuban people and allow them to share in the progress of our times."

The administration has long said that Cuba must allow democracy, foster a free-market economy and show full respect for human rights.

Monday's remarks were intended as an elaboration on those themes, specifying what measures the administration requires before it will consider lifting the embargo — a step that would require congressional approval.

Bush was demanding that opposition parties be allowed to organize, assemble and speak freely, with equal access to the airwaves. He also was saying Cuba's 2003 elections must be monitored by objective outside observers and that human rights groups be free to visit Cuba to monitor the conditions for those elections.

In addition, the president was insisting that all political prisoners be released and allowed to participate in the election.

"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 in his prepared remarks.

He also was to voice support for a referendum in Cuba asking voters whether they favor civil liberties including freedom of speech and assembly, and amnesty for political prisoners, said Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, who was briefed on Bush's message.

There was irony in the thrust of Bush's remarks and its delivery in Miami. Cuba mocked the United States for the chaotic conclusion in Florida of the 2000 presidential election, and Cuba's foreign minister offered to send observers to ensure fair balloting there in the future.

Bush also was to call on Cuba to open its economy and allow independent trade unions. Aides said he planned to back the establishment of government-business partnerships patterned after an approach the United States took with Poland as that nation emerged from communism.

The demands were the result of a policy review by the White House and were packaged in what the administration has dubbed the Initiative for a New Cuba.

Seeking to balance the hard line on the embargo with a sensitivity to Cuba's grinding poverty, Bush also was announcing a four-pronged strategy for helping the people there.

The measures will:

_Seek to cut U.S. bureaucratic hurdles that hamper American aid groups from working in Cuba.

_Send taxpayer money to such non-governmental groups that want to help in Cuba.

_Establish scholarships in the United States for Cuban students and professionals trying to assemble independent institutions and for relatives of political prisoners.

_Resume mail service between the United States and Cuba, something this country has sought since 1999.

Last week, a 40-member, bipartisan group in Congress announced support for easing the embargo. The private Human Rights Watch called for the same, saying the embargo "imposes indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people and impedes democratic change."

Politics loomed large over Bush's events Monday.

Cuban-American voters helped carry him to a narrow victory in Florida, the state that decided the 2000 election, and they favor the kind of hard line he was espousing. The tough talk also could appeal to the broader Hispanic vote throughout the United States.

Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, faces re-election this year and is depending on Cuban-Americans, who vote heavily Republican.

The president was to headline a fund-raiser Monday evening for the Florida Republican Party, which will use the money to boost Jeb Bush's re-election campaign. It will be the third fund-raiser for his brother the president has attended this year.

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