U.S. President George W. Bush reinforced his hard line against communist Cuba on Thursday, accusing Fidel and Raul Castro of repressive policies and urging them to free all political prisoners.
Bush took his latest swipe at Cuba’s government at a meeting with the wife of jailed Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet, recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor.
“It’s hard for us to imagine what it would be like if we’re living in a society as repressive as the society of Fidel and Raul Castro,” Bush said sitting in the Oval Office beside Elsa Morejon, who wore a pin bearing her husband’s portrait.
Bush has called the Castro government a “dying order” and called on Cubans to push for democratic change since ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro, 81, temporarily handed power to his brother Raul in 2006.
Bush has refused any easing of decades-old economic sanctions against Cuba without a full transition to democracy.
He has urged international support in isolating Cuba but generated little global support for his approach.
Cuba denies having political prisoners and it labels dissidents “counterrevolutionaries” and “mercenaries” on the payroll of its archenemy, the U.S. government,
“My call is for those who believe that the Cuba of today is a hopeful place to recognize the realities,” Bush told reporters at the White House.
“This is a country that’s got political prisoners who are languishing in jails, who are mistreated in jails. Our message is that political prisoners ought to be free. So should the Cuban people—free to express themselves, free to realize their God-given talents,” he added.
Biscet, a doctor and human rights activist, has spent eight years in jail for opposing Cuba’s communist government. He was released in 2002 but arrested again weeks later and sentenced for 25 years for acting against Cuba’s independence, a common charge against dissidents.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Kieran Murray)
President Bush meets with Elsa Morejon, wife of Presidential medal of Freedom recipient Oscar Biscet, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington January 24, 2008.