Cuba Defiant in Face of Bush Speech
By WILL WEISSERT | October 24, 2007
HAVANA (AP) — Cuba on Wednesday accused President Bush of threatening to take over the communist island by force in response to the U.S. leader's call for change in the country.
In his first address focused only on Cuba in four years, Bush spoke of a post-Fidel Castro Cuba where people would choose a representative government and enjoy basic freedoms, with support from a broad international coalition.
"Now is the time to stand with the Cuban people as they stand up for their liberty," Bush said at the State Department. "And now is the time for the world to put aside its differences and prepare for Cuba's transition to a future of freedom and progress and promise."
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque called Bush's plans the "equivalent to the re-conquest of Cuba by force" and said they "give an idea of the level of frustration, of desperation and of personal hatred toward Cuba."
He said most Cubans back the 1959 revolution led by Castro, making the idea of an internal uprising in the name of democracy a "fantasy" and "politically impossible." He added that thousands of Cubans would take up arms to defend their homeland in the face of a U.S. invasion.
Perez Roque's remarks echoed those of the ailing Castro himself, who wrote in newspaper columns this week that "Bush is obsessed with Cuba."
The 81-year-old Castro, who temporarily ceded power to his constitutional successor and brother Raul in July 2006 after undergoing intestinal surgery, has not been seen in public for more than a year, and it is unclear whether he will return to power.
Washington's embargo on Cuba prohibits American tourists from visiting the island and chokes off most trade between the two countries. Bush asked Congress to maintain the embargo, which has come under scrutiny and calls for reassessment from some lawmakers. By U.S. law, the embargo is not supposed to be lifted as long as Fidel or Raul Castro is in power.
The U.S. does not have an embassy in Cuba but maintains an Interests Section in Havana. About 20 leading dissidents, government critics and independent journalists were invited there Wednesday to watch Bush's speech live.
"I really hoped for something more," said dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe. "Change in Cuba will never be radical and happen overnight like President Bush said."
He said he would like the U.S. embargo loosened to let Cuban-Americans travel more freely to the island and suggested it shouldn't rule out talks with Raul Castro, who has shown signs of being open to some economic reforms.
"The United States negotiated with North Korea and the results were something positive. I don't see why they can't negotiate with Cuba."
But another leading dissident, Martha Beatriz Roque, said she was pleased that Bush said Cubans themselves must bring about change
"There's no intention to invade Cuba," she said. "That's important, because the Cuban government wants to make us believe there is."