Bush rejects Carter's call to end Cuba ban

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The Independent US

President George Bush defended America's policy of economic sanctions against Cuba yesterday and dismissed calls from the former president Jimmy Carter to restart trade.

Mr Bush's spokesman said: "The President believes that the trade embargo is a vital part of US policy ... because trade with Cuba doesn't benefit the people of Cuba. It's used to prop up an oppressive regime."

Later, when Mr Bush was asked about Mr Carter's stand, he replied: "It doesn't complicate my foreign policy, because I haven't changed my foreign policy. That is, Fidel Castro is a dictator, and he is oppressive, and he ought to have free elections, and he ought to have a free press, and he ought to free his prisoners, and he ought to encourage free enterprise."

The defence of the 40-year-old trade and travel embargo came a day after Mr Carter, in a televised speech in Cuba, called for sanctions to be lifted. He also said Cuba did not meet international standards of democracy and said the leadership had to make a greater effort to improve civil liberties.

It was reported yesterday that Mr Bush will outline his views on strengthening the trade embargo next week in Miami. Measures are likely to include stricter travel restrictions, aiding dissidents and strengthening American gov-ernment broadcasts of news and opinion. The United States also plans to ask European and Latin American nations, especially Mexico and Spain, to help to build support for Cuban critics of the government.

Mr Carter – the first sitting or former American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928 – has opposed the administration's view. He notably deniedthere was any evidence Cuba was developing bioterrorism weapons or exporting this knowledge to "rogue states".

These differences come as a cross-party Congressional group is backing an end to the embargo. "For over 40 years, our policy toward Cuba has yielded no results," said Jeff Flake of Arizona. "It's time to try something new."

Many politicians from farming states have sought to do away with the trade embargo. A law enacted two years ago allows grain sales to Cuba but is made much less effective by a bar on public or private financing of the sales.