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Monday, 20 May, 2002, 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK
Bush stands firm on Cuba embargo
Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter
Castro and Carter called for an end to the embargo
President George W Bush has set out a list of conditions for easing the 40-year-old US trade embargo against Cuba.

Mr Bush said that unless the Communist-run island held free and fair National Assembly elections next year, released political prisoners and allowed a free opposition, US restrictions on trade and travel would stay.

Full normalisation of relations with Cuba will only be possible when Cuba has a new government that is fully democratic

President Bush
However, the US leader did offer to resume mail services to and from the island - a move rejected by Cuba in the past - and allow the delivery of private humanitarian aid.

In his speech to mark the 100th anniversary of Cuban independence, Mr Bush also urged Cuban leader Fidel Castro to release what he called the "stranglehold" on private economic activity, saying political and economic freedom went together.

His address in Washington comes only days after former US President Jimmy Carter called for an end to the US embargo during a visit to Cuba.

Mr Carter and other critics - including some members of the US Congress - argue that the US restrictions have failed to end Mr Castro's hold on power while making life harder for ordinary Cubans.

Momentum for change

President Bush: Political prisoners must be freed

"Full normalisation of relations with Cuba - diplomatic recognition, open trade and a robust aid programme - will only be possible when Cuba has a new government that is fully democratic, when the rule of law is respected and when the human rights of all Cubans are fully protected," Mr Bush said.

The embargo on Cuba would only be lifted if it holds "certifiably free and fair elections and reforms its economic system", he said, speaking at the White House.

"Then and only then, I will work with the US Congress to ease the ban on trade and travel between our two countries."

Mr Bush also called on Cuba to:

  • Let opposition parties speak freely and organise
  • Allow independent trade unions
  • Free all political prisoners
  • Let human rights groups visit Cuba to ensure that the conditions for free elections are being created
  • Allow outside observers to monitor 2003 elections
  • End discriminatory practices against Cuban workers

Later Mr Bush travelled to Miami where he told Cuban-Americans real change could come about if Cubans were allowed to hold a referendum on their future.

The BBC's Miami correspondent, Fergal Parkinson, says many see Mr Bush's speech less as a response to the visit than a political one aimed at securing votes in a state which is crucial for both the Republican Party and the Bush family in particular.

The support of Florida's Cuban American community was crucial to Mr Bush's disputed election victory and his brother Jeb, the current governor of the state, also faces a tough re-election battle in November.

Earlier this month Cuban dissidents presented the National Assembly in Havana with a petition calling for an end to four decades of one-party rule.

They said the petition contained more than 11,000 signatures, the number needed under the Cuban constitution for a referendum

Political pressures

Mr Bush's speech included no new measures against Cuba, despite speculation he would use the occasion to turn up the pressure on President Castro.

"The goal of the United States policy toward Cuba is not a permanent embargo on Cuba's economy. The goal is freedom for Cuba's people," he said.
George W Bush (left) with brother Jeb
Florida's Cuban exiles are key voters for both president and governor

Apart from offering negotiations on resuming the direct mail service to the island, Mr Bush also announced the establishment of scholarships in the US for Cubans trying to build independent civic institutions and for family members of political prisoners.

During Mr Carter's high-profile six-day visit to Cuba last week, he challenged both Mr Bush and Mr Castro to change and called for an end to the embargo.

Mr Carter - the first sitting or former US president to visit since Mr Castro rose to power in 1959 - spoke openly about the shortcomings in Cuba's political system in an unprecedented television address.

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"He launched a new Cuba initiative based on an old theme - Castro bashing"
President George W Bush
"The goal of the United States policy toward Cuba... is freedom for Cuba's people"
Wayne Smith of the Centre for International Policy
"Our hardline policy hasn't worked in forty years and won't work now"
See also:

17 May 02 | Americas
20 May 02 | Americas
17 May 02 | Newsmakers
15 May 02 | Americas
14 May 02 | Americas
09 May 02 | Americas
04 Sep 01 | Americas
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