One week before a UN General Assembly vote calling for an end to the decades-long U.S. blockade of Cuba, President George Bush lambasted Havana, distancing himself from Democratic presidential candidates critical of U.S. policies toward the island. Bush delivered the tirade at the State Department on Oct. 24 before a handful of Florida legislators and a few relatives of so-called dissidents in Cuba.
“The dissidents of today will be the nation’s leaders tomorrow,” Bush said, “and when freedom finally comes, they will surely remember who stood with them.”
Two hours later, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque responded on Cuba’s behalf. Members of the foreign and domestic press and family members of five Cubans jailed unjustly in the United States attended the session in Havana.
Perez Roque focused on two Bush statements: his desire to “accelerate the transition period,” and the idea that “the operative word in our future dealings with Cuba is not ‘stability.’ The operative word is ‘liberty.’”
These are notions, Perez Roque suggested, that stem from “frustration, desperation and personal hatred” and “invoke violence and use of force to destroy the revolution and impose Bush’s designs on Cuba.”
The foreign minister castigated Bush’s call for disobedience of their government by Cuban soldiers and police to win approval in a post-revolutionary Cuba. His message to Bush: “You are raving. You are talking to an army of liberation and people under arms … not [Cuban] mercenary recipients of $45 million” annually from Washington, some of whom may have been at the U.S. Interests Section “applauding your speech.”
At stake, according to Perez Roque, are international law, Cuban independence and moral principles. Addressing Bush again, he said, “You are a brutal repressor; your regime has tortured and kidnapped, using secret flights and clandestine centers.” In Iraq, “half a million innocent civilians have died.”
Bush proposals to provide Cubans with computers and scholarships were belittled. By 2008, said Perez Roque, 650,000 computers will be in place in Cuba. Sixty-nine percent of age-appropriate Cubans attend universities.
He dismissed Bush’s proposal for an “international fund for Cuban freedom,” for business loans particularly, as “passing the hat.” He cited the persecution of Cuban solidarity and donor groups like Pastors for Peace to expose Bush’s hollow claims to provide humanitarian assistance.
Bush’s charges that “it is illegal to change jobs, to change houses, to travel abroad, and to read books or magazines without the express approval of the state” met with ridicule from the foreign minister, as did a Bush report of a Cuban journalist who asked one thing of visiting foreigners — “a pen.”
Wonder at Bush’s fantasies extends beyond Cuba. Writing for havananote.com, former Colin Powell associate Lawrence Wilkerson contended that Bush’s “ignorance of the real situation on the ground defies belief.” He “doesn’t even know that the transition of power in Cuba has already happened.”
Support for Cuba poured in from solidarity groups in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Spain, Peru and Great Britain, including from members of Parliament there.
“Bush is rowing against the tide,” according to the Angola-Cuba Friendship Association. Latin American dailies El Clarin, Pagina 12, and La Jornada featured Perez Roque’s rejoinder to Bush.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said, “Instead of talking about the wildfires in Los Angeles” — and disastrous flooding in Nicaragua — “President Bush is ready to keep burning the Cuban people.”
Saul Ortega, a Venezuelan parliamentarian, said Bush “spoke like an imperialist and a colonialist.” He urged Latin American nations “to close ranks in defense of the principles of sovereignty and self-determination” and leave off serving as “the backyard for transnational corporations.”
Venezuela’s vice foreign minister, Rodolfo Sanz, said, “Times have changed. Cuba is not alone.”
President Bush pictured Cubans listening to him, “perhaps at great risk,” over Radio and TV Marti, a U.S. propaganda tool. Five hours later, however, Cubans saw and heard Bush’s entire presentation over national television. The broadcast differed from a U.S. report, according to Spanish observer Pascual Serrano, only in leaving out “an advertisement for acne cream.”