US President George W. Bush is to unveil “new initiatives” to help Cubans and push for democracy in the communist-run nation, the White House said Friday.
Bush is scheduled to speak on Cuba policy at the State Department on Wednesday where he will announce “new initiatives to help the people of Cuba,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Friday.
The announcement comes as Cuban leader Fidel Castro continues to be sidelined from power since undergoing gastrointestinal surgery in July 2006. Castro’s brother, Raul, is serving as president while his elder brother recovers.
The US leader angered Cuban officials last month when he said before the United Nations General Assembly that the long rule of “cruel dictator” Castro “is nearing its end” and that Cubans were “ready for their freedom.”
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque walked out of the General Assembly hall when Bush made the remarks.
“The President intends to emphasize the importance of democracy for the Cuban people and the role the international community can play in Cuba’s transition, by insisting on free speech, free assembly, free and competitive elections, and the release of all political prisoners,” Fratto said.
The White House and State Department did not elaborate on the “new initiatives.”
Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said, “The United States wants to be able to be in a position to assist the Cuban people as they move through that transition” from nearly a five-decade rule by Castro.
When asked whether a longstanding US economic embargo on Cuba should be lifted during the transition, Casey said, “We believe that what should be lifted is the longstanding embargo on the rights of the Cuban people that’s been imposed by Fidel Castro.”