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Friday, March 7, 2008

President Bush stands up for pro-democracy victims

Bush pushes democracy for Cuba
The world may be silent when it comes to the sufferings of the Cuban people, but George W. Bush- President of the United States and leader of the free world -will always stand up for them.

President Bush meets with Miguel Sigler Amaza, a former Cuban political prisoner and founder Movimiento Independiente Opcion Alternativa (Independent Movement for an Alternative Option), as his wife Josefa Lopez Pena, his wife and founding member of Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) look on in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 7, 2008.
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON - President Bush chastised most other countries Friday for "a sad and curious pattern" of doing little to speak out against human rights and political abuses in Cuba.

"Unfortunately, the list of countries supporting the Cuban people is far too short and the democracies absent from that list are far too notable," Bush said at the White House.

The "small band of brave nations" speaking out for freedom in Cuba include, Bush said, his own administration as well as nations that were in the Communist bloc but are now democratic such as the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

"The United States has not been silent, nor will we be silent," he said. "When a new day finally dawns for Cubans, they will remember the few brave nations that stood with them, and the many that did not."

Bush spoke after meeting in the Oval Office with former prisoner Miguel Sigler Amaya and his wife, Josefa Lopez Pena.

Five years ago this month, in what Bush called "a tragic moment in the history of Cuba," Amaya was among scores arrested for offenses against the regime. He was released in 2006 and ordered to leave the country with his wife. But 55 of the 75 pro-democracy activists arrested in that 2003 crackdown remain in prison for their participation in peaceful activities, including Amaya's brothers, Ariel and Guida Sigler Amaya.

"For Miguel and Josefa, the horrors of life in Cuba are behind them, but millions of others are still trapped in the tropical gulag," Bush said. "Yet most of the world says nothing."

The president said the global community has largely remained silent in recent months, even as dozens of young Cubans wearing "change" bracelets were arrested, as Cuban authorities raided a Catholic church to spray parishioners with tear gas and drag them away. Last weekend, activists distributing copies of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights were pushed and beaten.

"That same week, Cuba signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," Bush said. "The international community applauded Cuba for signing a piece of paper — but on the abuses that same week, much of the world was silent."

The Cuban government, which often takes several days to respond to criticisms from Washington — if it responds as all — had no immediate comment Friday on the Bush speech.

Bush has renewed his focus on Cuba since Fidel Castro officially stepped down last month 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 his brother, who led the nation for nearly a half-century, underwent emergency surgery in July 2006.

But Bush said any speculation that the leadership shift would affect U.S. policy toward Cuba "is exactly backward."

"So far, all Cuba has done is replace one dictator with another," the president said. "This is the same system, the same faces, and the same policies that led Cuba to its miseries in the first place."

The only way for relations to improve between Cuba and the United States, he said, is for the government there to pave the way for free and fair elections, release all political prisoners and respect human rights "in word and deed."

"What needs to change is not the United States; what needs to change is Cuba," the president said. "Cuba's government must begin a process as peaceful democratic change."

For years, lawmakers of both parties have been trying to chip away at the United States' Cold War-era trade, travel and home visit restrictions aimed at undermining a hostile government just 90 miles from U.S. shores. They argue that last month's change in leadership provides the opportunity to lift the embargo.

The Bush administration, however, has been adamant that a new Castro in power doesn't mean a new Cuba.