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5/23/03 - BUSH SPEAKS TO THE CUBAN PEOPLE - 2003-05-23

President George W. Bush spoke in Spanish to the people of Cuba on the one-hundred-first anniversary of Cuba's independence from Spain.

But Independence Day is not a happy day in Cuba. That is because for over four decades, the Cuban people have been anything but independent. Since 1959, the Communist dictatorship of Fidel Castro has maintained a repressive system that has deprived them of their freedoms, their rights, and their livelihoods.

The past few years in Cuba have been particularly difficult. Castro has had hundreds of dissidents arrested. Their supposed crime? Calling for democracy. And in the most notorious act of political repression in Latin America in a decade, at least seventy-five Cubans, including journalists, economists and activists, were tried and convicted in kangaroo courts for demanding respect for fundamental rights. The dissidents were sentenced to prison terms as long as twenty-eight years.

United States policy toward Cuba has been consistent and clear. In the words of President Bush, "My hope is for the Cuban people to soon enjoy the same freedoms and rights as [the people of the United States] do. . . . May God bless the Cuban people who are struggling for freedom."

The Cuban people should be able to organize, assemble, publish, and speak freely. Cuban political prisoners should be released. Human rights organizations should be free to visit Cuba. There should be free elections.

Normalization of relations with Cuba will only be possible when Cuba has a new government that is democratic, when the rule of law is respected, and when the rights of Cubans are protected. As President Bush told the Cuban people in his radio address, "Dictatorships have no place in the Americas."