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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 21:14 GMT 22:14 UK
Cuba blasts Bush over dissidents
Cuban President Fidel Castro
The Cuban president remains at odds with the US
By Daniel Schweimler in Havana

Cuba has launched its strongest attack yet on the United States since President George W Bush took office, following a proposal by two American senators to fund dissidents on the island.

Cuban Foreign Minister, Felipe Perez Roque, said he was stunned and amazed by the plan proposed by senators Jesse Helms and Joseph Lieberman last week.

Their bill, which would provide $100m to opposition groups on the island in the form of telephones, fax machines, food and cash, has been strongly backed by the president.

We didn't think it possible President Bush could speak for so long without saying absolutely anything of coherence

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque
The tone, it seems, has now been set for the way Cuba will continue its long-running conflict with the United States and now the Bush administration.

Until now, Cuba had not said much about the new president, waiting to see what form his policy towards Cuba would take.

Last week, however, Mr Bush made it clear that that policy would be a tough one.

No let up

The 40-year-long US embargo against the island would not be lifted, he said, and he would support moves to send the $100m to dissident groups operating on the communist island.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque
Felipe Perez Roque heaped scorn on the US president
Mr Bush added that he would fight any attempts to loosen the sanctions until Cuba held free elections and allowed free speech.

In response, Mr Perez Roque has called the US position on Cuba absurd.

He said he was surprised that anyone could talk for so long without saying anything coherent.

'Right-wing bias'

The minister added that Mr Bush was being influenced by radical groups of right-wing Cuban exiles, who did not represent the true opinion of the more than one million Cubans living in the US.

Most Americans, he said, opposed the embargo and tens of thousands visited the island every year in defiance of their own government's laws, which prohibit US citizens spending money in Cuba.

Mr Perez Roque went on to say that any money Washington sends to Cuba would only end up in the hands of right-wing Cuban dissident groups in Miami as it always has done in the past.

Any hopes that either side had of a thaw in relations between Havana and Washington should now be put on hold, at least for the foreseeable future.

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See also:

12 May 01 | Americas
Castro has rare praise for Powell
22 Apr 01 | Americas
US ship cancels Cuba visit
21 Jul 00 | Americas
US moves to lift Cuba sanctions
19 Oct 00 | Americas
Castro: The great survivor
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