WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush took a parting swipe at communist Cuba on Tuesday, saying it was a cruel dictatorship that had responded to U.S. appeals for democratic reform with more repression of its people.
Bush’s statement, issued a week before he hands over to his successor Barack Obama, was a reminder he will leave office with the Castro government still entrenched in power despite a 46-year-old U.S. embargo against the island.
“As much of the world celebrates the dawning of a new year, Cuba marks 50 years of one of the cruelest dictatorships this hemisphere has witnessed,” Bush said, referring to the anniversary of Cuba’s revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.
The ailing 82-year-old Castro handed over the presidency last year to his younger brother Raul, who has undertaken only a handful of reforms such as allowing Cubans to buy computers, cell phones and DVD players.
Bush’s Republican administration has deemed the changes insufficient, saying sanctions should not be eased until Havana releases political prisoners and allows free expression.
Obama, a Democrat, has pledged to soften restrictions on family travel and remittances but said he would keep the embargo as leverage to influence changes in the one-party state.
He has said he would be ready to pursue diplomacy with Cuba’s leaders if conditions were right, something Bush has resisted doing.
“My administration has continually challenged the Cuban government to bring genuine political and economic changes and improve human rights, and has made it clear that the United States stands prepared to respond to any request for assistance from a Cuba that transitions to democracy,” Bush said.
“The Castro regime’s response to our offers has been continued repression of the Cuban people,” he added.
Cuba has long blamed its economic woes on the U.S. embargo, though successive U.S. administrations have pinned the blame on Havana’s policies.
The Council of the Americas, a leading business group, issued a report this week recommending that Obama reinvigorate U.S. trade ties in Latin America and the Caribbean during his first 90 days in office by softening the most punitive sanctions on Cuba.
Editing by Eric Beech
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