By Tom Raum | Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) President Bush declared that ‘‘dictatorships have no place in the Americas’’ in a brief radio address to Cubans on Tuesday, the 101st anniversary of the founding of the Cuban republic.
He also met privately with a small group of dissidents and former political prisoners of the Fidel Castro regime.
But the White House had nothing to announce in terms of possible new measures against Havana, disappointing some Cuban-American groups that had been pressing for steps ranging from increased economic pressure to legislation advocating ‘‘regime change’’ in Cuba.
‘‘I think the administration is always reviewing what the best policy is around the world, and that would include the best policies toward Cuba,’’ said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
U.S. officials noted that just last week the administration had expelled 14 Cuban diplomats for engaging in ‘‘inappropriate and unacceptable activities.’’
Bush’s 40-second message to Cubans was aired Tuesday morning by Radio Marti, the U.S. government station whose signals are beamed to the communist island.
‘‘My hope is for the Cuban people to soon enjoy the same freedoms and rights as we do,’’ Bush said. ‘‘Dictatorships have no place in the Americas. May God bless the Cuban people, who are struggling for freedom.’’
Later, Bush met with 11 Miami-based Cuban dissidents and former prisoners.
Afterward, Ana Lazara Rodriguez, a doctor who spent 19 years in prison under Castro, told reporters: ‘‘What is important is not that I have spent so many years in a political prison, that we have been beaten, confined. ... But what is important is that those things continue happening in Cuba.
‘‘We have to stop that,’’ she said. ‘‘We’re going to have to stand up and say no to Castro.’’
Mel Martinez, Bush’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, accompanied the group.
‘‘The president expressed his support for the plight of the Cuban people the outrage at the violation of human rights that is taking place in Cuba today and for many years and his hope for a better life for the Cuban people,’’ said Martinez, who was born in 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 Castro and his brother, Raul, for their alleged roles in the shooting down of two private, unarmed, Miami-based planes north of Cuba in 1996.
Other Cuban-American groups favor stepping up economic pressure on the regime by sharply restricting the flow of dollars to the island from U.S. relatives and friends.
Tuesday’s observance was a low-key affair compared with 2002, when Bush assailed Castro in strong terms, first in a Rose Garden address and later at a raucous rally in Miami attended by thousands of Cuban-Americans.
One official noted that last year’s anniversary carried more weight because it was the 100th.
This year’s lower-key observance came several days after the president of the Cuban National Assembly accused Florida Gov. Jeb Bush of trying to persuade his brother, the president, to invade the island.
‘‘You have, first of all, those in Miami that are calling for even a military action against Cuba, including the governor,’’ Alarcon told ABC’s ‘‘This Week’’ on Sunday.
Fleischer, the White House spokesman, declined to comment on the allegation, saying he wasn’t familiar with it.
In Florida, meanwhile, Gov. Bush criticized Castro for ‘‘the continued oppression of personal liberties.’’
‘‘In recent months, the despotic Castro regime has once again demonstrated its utter disregard for basic human rights,’’ the Florida governor said in a statement released in Spanish and English.
Cuba has drawn heavy world criticism for the recent sentencing of 75 dissidents to lengthy prison terms and the execution of three men who attempted to hijack a Cuban boat.