By GINGER THOMPSON | New York Times
President Bush is planning to issue a stern warning Wednesday that the United States will not accept a political transition in Cuba in which power changes from one Castro brother to another, rather than to the Cuban people.
As described by an official in a background briefing to reporters on Tuesday evening, Mr. Bush’s remarks will amount to the most detailed response — mainly an unbending one — to the political changes that began in Cuba more than a year ago, when Fidel Castro fell ill and handed power to his brother Raúl.
The speech, scheduled to be given at the State Department before invited Cuban dissidents, will introduce the relatives of four Cuban prisoners being held for political crimes. The relatives, who fled Cuba years ago for the United States, will attend the gathering. A senior administration official said the president wanted to “put a human face,” on Cuba’s “assault on freedom.”
In effect, the speech will be a call for Cubans to continue to resist, a particularly strong line coming from an American president. He is expected to say to the Cuban military and police, “There is a place for you in a new Cuba.”
The official said Mr. Bush would make the case that for dissidents and others pursuing democracy in Cuba, little has changed at all, and that the country has suffered economically as well as in other ways as a result of the Castro rule.
He will say that while much of the rest of Latin America has moved from dictatorship to democracy, Cuba continues to use repression and terror to control its people. And, the administration official said, Mr. Bush will direct another part of his speech to the Cuban people, telling them they “have the power to shape their destiny and bring about change.”
The administration official said Mr. Bush was expected to tell Cuban viewers that “soon they will have to make a choice between freedom and the force used by a dying regime.”
Some of the sharpest parts of the speech, however, will be aimed directly at Raúl Castro. Mr. Bush is expected to make clear that the United States will oppose an old system controlled by new faces. The senior administration official said that nothing in Raúl Castro’s past gives Washington reason to expect democratic reforms soon. And he said the United States would uphold its tough economic policies against the island.
However, he held out the possibility of incentives for change, including expanding cultural and information exchanges with Cuba, if Cuba demonstrated an openness to such exchanges.
The administration official gave no reason for the timing of Mr. Bush’s speech. However, he did say that another important constituency was the international community, particularly those countries whose trade with Cuba undermined the impact of the United States embargo. In recent months, Raúl Castro has made an open play for more business, suggesting his government is prepared to carry out reforms aimed at opening Cuba’s economy to further foreign investment.
Mr. Bush will urge countries to stand with the United States and stop trade with Cuba. He will call on the international community to work with the United States on the establishment of a “Freedom Fund for Cuba,” to be used for infrastructure and other projects once a democratic transition begins.
“The president will make the point that life will not improve for Cubans under the current system,” the senior administration official said. “It will not improve by exchanging one dictator over another, and it will not improve in any way by seeking accommodation with a new tyranny for the sake of stability.”
Read the other story from the Associated PressBush to Tout Cuban Life After Castro