President George W. Bush marked the five year anniversary of Cuba’s March 2003 crackdown on dissidents, a crackdown known as the “Black Spring.” Mr. Bush hosted a White House ceremony March 7th attended by former political prisoners from Cuba, U.S. legislators and non-governmental organizations. It was the fifth time in the past few months that Mr. Bush has met with families of Cuban political prisoners. In November of last year, he awarded the Medal of Freedom in absentia to Dr. Oscar Biscet, a long-serving prisoner of conscience. At the ceremony, President Bush had this to say about the 2003 crackdown:
“Cuban authorities rounded up scores of citizens and charged them with offenses against the regime. Those arrested included teachers and librarians and journalists. They committed no crimes. They simply held views their government did not like, and they refused to be silent. In all, seventy-five people were given long prison terms.”
According to human rights groups, there are over two-hundred-thirty prisoners of conscience still languishing in Cuba's prisons. The U.S. calls "for the immediate, unconditional release of the victims of the Black Spring and all prisoners of conscience in Cuba,” State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said in a written statement.
President Bush noted that the U.S. has “been consistently joined in condemning the Cuban regime’s outrages” by the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and other countries that “recently lived through communist tyranny.” Speaking of the transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul, President Bush says that Cuba has merely exchanged “one dictator for another.”:
“Reports of the supposed retirement of Cuba’s dictator initially led many to believe that the time had finally come for the United States to change our policy on Cuba and improve our relations with the regime. That sentiment is exactly backward. To improve relations, what needs to change is not the United States; what needs to change is Cuba. Cuba’s government must begin a process of peaceful democratic change. They must release all political prisoners. They must have respect for human rights in word and deed, and pave the way for free and fair elections.”
“A new day for Cuba will come.” Mr. Bush says. “We will know it’s here when jailers go to the cells where Cuban prisoners of conscience are held and set them free.”