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The BBC's Bill Hayton
"Washington has tried and failed to oust Cuba's government"
 real 56k

Saturday, 19 May, 2001, 01:07 GMT 02:07 UK
Bush stands firm on Cuban sanctions
Havana, Cuba
Critics of the sanctions say they penalise the Cuban poor
US President George W Bush has said there will be no let up in sanctions against Cuba.

Mr Bush said he would oppose any weakening of the trade penalties, which have been in place for four decades, until the communist island frees political prisoners, allows democratic elections and tolerates free speech.

Elian Gonzalez is welcomed home by his grandfather
The row over Elian Gonzalez polarised the US public
"The sanctions our government enforces against the (President Fidel) Castro regime are not just a policy tool, they are a moral statement," Mr Bush said in an address to mark Cuba's Independence Day, which is held on Sunday.

He stressed that "our goal is not to have an embargo against Cuba, but freedom in Cuba".

Aiding Cuban dissent

President Castro joked on Thursday that a plan by the Bush administration to channel millions of dollars to dissidents in Cuba was "excellent" and would help the impoverished country.

"The more mistakes they make the weaker the position of the United States will be - better for us," he told reporters, in response to a proposal to supply opposition figures with aid.

US sanctions against Cuba were actually eased last year, with food and medicine exempted from the embargo.

Divide over sanctions

But even that move - supported by farmers and businesses who would stand to gain from the trade, but fiercely opposed by Republican Party leaders - proved controversial.

Our Washington correspondent, Stephen Sackur, says that public opinion regarding the communist state is slowly changing, however.

Many Americans believed it was right that the six-year-old shipwreck survivor Elian Gonzalez, who washed up on America's shores last summer, was returned to his father in Cuba.

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro ridiculed the US plan to back dissidents
Supporters of an easing of the sanctions, which have been in place since 1962 - three years after the revolution that brought Mr Castro to power - say that the victims are mainly the poor and the sick.

More contact between Cuba and the US would help weaken Castro's grip on power, they argue.

Miami party

Cuban Americans in Miami on Friday celebrated their homeland's Independence Day with a musical extravaganza and a reopening of Freedom Tower, a powerfully symbolic building for the more than one million Cubans in the United States.

During the exodus of Cubans from their country after Fidel Castro rose to power, half a million immigrants were processed at the building between 1962-1974.

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See also:

22 Apr 01 | Americas
US ship cancels Cuba visit
19 Mar 01 | Americas
Cuba issues double trade challenge
27 Apr 00 | Americas
What's life really like in Cuba?
21 Jul 00 | Americas
US moves to lift Cuba sanctions
01 Jan 99 | Americas
Castro: The great survivor
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