Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Cuban Foreign Minister on Bush Speech, UN Vote

AP Interview: Cuban foreign minister says country is prepared if Bush chooses to attack

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

UNITED NATIONS: Cuba's foreign minister warned U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday that if the United States wants to bring about regime change by force in Cuba, his country is prepared.

The conflict will not only jeopardize Cuba's stability but U.S. stability as well, Felipe Perez Roque said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"We are not threatening and we never bluff," he said. "We respect the United States, but we demand respect for ourselves, and we would defend our country from an attempt to have foreign aggression."

He said Bush's first major policy speech on Cuba in four years, in which the president challenged the international community to help the people of the communist island shed Fidel Castro's rule and become a free society, indicated the president might be prepared to use force.

"Bush said in last week's speech that "the operative word in our future dealings with Cuba is not stability. The operative word is freedom." Perez Roque singled out the "irresponsible phrase."

"If that is the expression of the decisions that the president may be planning to make, it would be very dangerous both for Cuba and for the U.S., because if that's the expression of the attempt to bring about a regime change by force in Cuba, that will clash with the resilience of the Cuban people, and the people are prepared," Perez Roque said.

In Cuba, he said, more than 90 percent of the 11.5 million people support "the genuine revolution" that began in 1959 when Castro toppling dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The only "freedom" that Cubans can imagine Bush pursing, Perez Roque added, "would be similar to the one he has taken to Iraq" where the war has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

"An attempt to bring about a change in regime in Cuba is going to jeopardize not only Cuba's stability, but also the stability of the United States because then a conflict would be unleashed very close to their shores," Perez Roque warned.

The history of the Cuban revolution is to defend the country against outside forces, he said.

"We cannot be intimidated. we cannot be misled, and the fact must be accepted that we are a sovereign, independent nation," he said.

Perez Roque was interviewed shortly after the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to urge the United States to end its 46-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. The vote in the 192-member world body — 184 to 4 with 1 abstention — was the highest in 16 years for the resolution.

Calling it "an historic victory," the Cuban minister said it was the international community's answer to Bush's speech and showed global support for "the Cuban right to be an independent nation, to be respected in its right to self-determination."

Even though the resolution is not legally binding, Perez Roque said the vote "has a very important ethical and moral meaning" and strengthened "our resilience and our decision, really, to resist and finally to defeat the blockade."

In his speech, Bush mentioned neither Fidel nor his brother, Raul, by name. Raul Castro has been the island's interim ruler since July 2006 while the 81-year-old Fidel recuperates from ill health.

But Bush said "the dissidents of today will be the nation's leaders" after the Castro era, and he told the Cuban military: "You may have once believed in the revolution. Now you can see its failure."

The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Cuba, lists the country as a state sponsor of terror, and has long sought to isolate it through travel restrictions and a trade embargo, which has been tightened over Bush's two terms. This year, the U.S. stepped up enforcement of financial sanctions, which Perez Roque strongly denounced.

The Bush administration sees Castro's failing health as an opening for change. Little is different under Raul Castro, 76. Bush said in his speech that the U.S. will make no accommodations with "a new tyranny."

Perez Roque called Bush's statements "the expression of the failed policy of the United States towards Cuba," which was demonstrated by the total lack of support for the U.S. in Tuesday's vote.

Bush "should put aside his arrogance and humbly recognize" that the U.S. is isolated, and "he should also rectify his policy that causes hardships and suffering to the Cuban people."

"Cuba doesn't pose a threat to the U.S. Cuba is a country that would like to have normal relations with the United States. Our leaders have stated so publicly. However, we have just received more blockade and more aggressions from the current president of the U.S," he said.

Perez Roque said he would like the next U.S. administration to sit down with the Cuban government and negotiate improved relations.

"I would like it to be that way, but I'm not dying with anxiety to see it happen," he said.

"But if the next administration persists on following (the) wrong policy of blockade and aggression against Cuba, then you will also find us there prepared, and you will crash head-on into our resistance," he warned.

Perez Roque said Fidel Castro is continuing his recovery, and met with him last Friday to discuss his General Assembly speech — "and he made some useful suggestions in my statement to make it better." But he said he could not speculate on whether Fidel would return to power soon.

As for Raul Castro, Perez Roque said despite being demonized by some of the media, the acting president "has a great deal of moral authority in Cuba" because of his role in the revolution, and "a lot of sympathy and a great deal of support among the Cubans."

"The Cubans feel that they are close of Raul, as they've been with Fidel, and in Cuba it was no surprise that with Fidel's disease, Raul was called upon to take over," Perez Roque said.

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