Bush touts democracy, says freedom will come to Cuba

Deborah Charles
Saturday, April 21, 2001

U.S. President George W. Bush, highlighting Cuba's absence from the Summit of the Americas, on Saturday touted the benefits of democracy and said "freedom will come" one day for Cuba.

"Only one country in the western hemisphere is not represented (at the summit), because that country, Cuba, is the only one that is not yet a democracy," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

It was broadcast while he was in Quebec for the Summit of the Americas, which will discuss a Free Trade Area of the Americas underpinned by democracy.

"Democracy's progress in our part of the world is not total, but it is remarkable," Bush said. "We live in a hemisphere defined by the ideas and aspirations of freedom. Some 800 million people live in the Americas; 11 million of them live under dictatorship."

Democracy is a key focus of the three-day summit which groups leaders from 34 nations in North and South Americas, Central America and the Caribbean. Cuba is the only country in the region not invited.

On Sunday, the leaders will sign a statement that includes what one U.S. official called an "extraordinarily powerful statement" on democracy, calling for exclusion of nondemocratic states from future summits.

"FREEDOM WILL COME"

In his address, Bush applauded a recent vote at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights condemning Havana for alleged rights abuses.

The text of the condemnation, which also called on Cuba to open a dialogue with the internal opposition, was backed by European and many Latin American states but opposed by Arab, Asian and African members. "We are pleased that many countries in the Americas join us in passing a resolution this week at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights; they have called upon Cuba to respect the rights of its citizens," Bush said.

"We know that for the people of Cuba their day of freedom will come," he added.

Ten countries abstained from the vote, including Mexico, which said it was deeply concerned about rights violations in Cuba but felt the text displayed "double standards."

This was a clear reference to the resolution's failure to include a reference to the 40-year U.S. economic embargo on trade with Cuba -- a concern voiced also by Argentina and Uruguay which still voted for the motion.

U.S. FUTURE TIED TO HEMISPHERE

Bush said in his address that the future of the United States was closely tied to the future of the hemisphere.

"Many American businesses are finding new markets and opportunities in the Americas, which creates jobs at home, and promotes economic growth abroad. And all Americans benefit when our closest neighbors are peaceful, stable, and enjoy stronger economies."

He said leaders at the summit were focusing on a practical agenda to strengthen democracy, which could be threatened by poverty, illiteracy and the drug trade.

Free trade can also help, Bush said, pointing to the benefits from the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

"NAFTA has created good jobs in all three nations," Bush said. "Now we must extend those opportunities to all with a free trade agreement for the entire western hemisphere."