President Bush has reached out to Cuban dissidents, speaking by videoconference with activists on the communist island who are still struggling for change there, the White House said Wednesday.
The conversation between Bush and three dissidents took place on Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, Bush also was using a speech at the State Department to call on Cuba’s leaders to begin a process of democratic change.
Those remarks were being made at the State Department, before the Council of the Americas, an international business organization committed to economic and social development, open markets, the rule of law, and democracy.
The developments are part of a stepped-up effort by Bush to talk about Cuba and press for political change since Fidel Castro officially stepped down in February after decades ruling the island. Fidel’s brother, Raul, took over as president in the ailing leader’s place. He had been provisional president since Fidel Castro, who led the nation for nearly a half-century, underwent emergency surgery in July 2006.
But Bush has stressed that a new Castro does not mean a new Cuba.
In the teleconference, Bush spoke with Martha Beatriz Roque, one of the 75 pro-democracy activists arrested in a 2003 crackdown for offenses against the Castro regime; Berta Soler, the wife of a still-jailed activist; and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, who was released last year after 17 years in prison. They were at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana while they talked to Bush.
“This was an opportunity for the president to hear directly from those in Cuba who are struggling on behalf of human rights,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.