THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Washington - President George W. Bush voiced solidarity yesterday with Cubans striving to “enjoy the same freedoms and rights as we do” in a radio message in Spanish timed to coincide with Cuban Independence Day.
“Dictatorships have no place in the Americas. May God bless the Cuban people who are struggling for freedom,” Bush said.
The taped message was aired by Radio Marti, a U.S. government station beamed into Cuba, on the 101st anniversary of Cuban independence.
The president also met later in the day with Cubans who oppose the Castro regime and former political prisoners to “hear their stories,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
In his 40-second radio message, Bush said: “On behalf of the people of the United States, I send greetings to the Cuban community. My hope is for the Cuban people to soon enjoy the same freedoms and rights as we do.”
Cuban-American and other groups have been lobbying the White House for changes in policy toward Cuba. The most powerful of the anti-communist exile groups, the Cuban-American National Foundation, urged the administration to adopt a regime change policy for Cuba.
It also called for “massive” assistance to democracy advocates in Cuba and for the indictments of Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul, for their alleged role in the shooting down of two private, unarmed Miami-based planes north of Cuba in 1996.
Other Cuban-American groups favored stepping up economic pressure on the regime by sharply restricting the flow of dollars to the island from U.S. relatives and friends.
The Washington Office on Latin America recommended lifting restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans and pursuing a policy of engagement with the island to improve the country’s human rights conditions.