Last week in a speech based on the obviously close end of Fidel Castro’s life, President George W. Bush called upon the nations of the world to stand with the Cuban people and put aside their differences to prepare for Cuba’s "transition" to democracy.
Fidel’s illness and rapidly failing health announced last year devolved his absolute power institutionally. Fidel had formally endorsed his brother (who is also head of the Cuban military) to become his designated successor a decade ago. When Raul Castro was named temporary leader last year, it marked the first occasion in 47 years of the Cuban revolution for anyone other than Fidel to exercise power.
Speaking against "succession" and in favor of "transition" on Wednesday at the State Department before an audience of Congressmen, cabinet secretaries and families of political prisoners, Bush suggested a post-Communist Cuba not unlike that of Eastern Europe following the fall of the former Soviet Union, where the "dissidents of today will be the nation’s leaders tomorrow – and when freedom finally comes, they will surely remember who stood with them." International support for liberty and freedom, particularly at the UN, has been the most difficult to muster over the nearly 50 years of what the president labeled as the "tropical gulag" called Cuba.
The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, once trapped behind the Iron Curtin, are today among the Cuban dissidents’ staunchest allies and supporters. They stand firmly besides the United States against the Castro regime’s tyranny, representing the attitudes and experiences of the New versus the Old Europe.
As for the economic embargo against Havana, Bush acknowledged that Cuba’s regime uses "the U.S. embargo as a scapegoat for Cuba’s miseries," which is not caused by U.S. policy "but [by] the communist system," stating that "trade with Cuba would merely enrich the elites in power and strengthen their grip." Bush voiced a litany of basic freedoms embraced by our own Bill of Rights, but absent throughout the island, that need to be restored as "the foundation of fair, free and competitive elections. Without these fundamental protections in place, elections are only cynical exercises that give dictatorships a legitimacy they do not deserve."
With his speech also broadcast to the Cuban people, Bush sent a message of reconciliation and forgiveness, as long as there wasn’t blood on their hands, directed primarily at the Cuban military, the secret police, and other government functionaries, saying there is a place for them in a free Cuba.
Unwilling to exchange one dictator for another, the president announced several new measures to help the Cuban people achieve democracy and freedom including: computers and Internet access; youth scholarship programs in the US; and an internationally created Freedom Fund for Cuba, provided the Cuban regime and the ruling class stepped out of the way.
An ailing Fidel Castro wrote days earlier of "Bush’s scheming and intentions" in anticipation of his remarks; Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega characterized the announcement as "new anti-Cuba measures," while the American Left described the president’s speech as "surprisingly belligerent and self-defeating."
All echoes from the supporters of a failed and dying regime.
"Now is the time," Bush beckoned repeatedly, to support the democratic opposition on the island, suggesting the hour for decision was drawing near.