October 24, 2007 in Nation/World

Bush planning aid to stir political change in Cuba

Michael Abramowitz Washington Post

WASHINGTON – President Bush plans to outline new steps today aimed at pressuring Cuba’s government to move to democracy and ease political repression, including offering new scholarships and computer access for the country’s youth and the creation of a new international fund to finance Cuban reconstruction under democratic leadership.

The moves were outlined Tuesday night by a senior administration official, who previewed Bush’s first extended discussion of U.S.-Cuba policy in several years.

The steps, to be announced at the State Department, amount to no major shift in the country’s long-standing approach to Cuba, which consists of efforts to isolate the regime economically and limit diplomatic contact until Havana liberalizes its half-century-old communist system.

“The key for this president is fundamental democratic change,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid upstaging today’s speech.

“If the regime were serious about that, they could take a number of steps today.”

The official said that Bush’s speech is not tied to the possibility that Cuba’s longtime ruler, Fidel Castro, may die soon. Castro turned over power to his brother Raul in July 2006 after announcing he had undergone intestinal surgery.

The official offered few details of how the president’s new initiatives would work. He said the administration wants to make available computers and Internet access, through nongovernment organizations and faith-based groups, to the island nation’s youth, but it seems unlikely that Cuba would permit that.

Similarly, the administration will invite Cuba to participate in a scholarship program for Latin American youth, the official said, but it was unclear whether the terms would be acceptable to the Havana government.

Bush will ask top Cabinet officers to solicit contributions from countries for a “freedom fund” for Cuba, the proceeds of which would be made available if the country moves to democracy, the official said.

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