Bush steps up anti-Cuba campaign

President Bush issued a thinly-veiled demand for regime change in Havana yesterday as he called for renewed efforts to weaken the rule of the Cuban president, Fidel Castro.

President Bush issued a thinly-veiled demand for regime change in Havana yesterday as he called for renewed efforts to weaken the rule of the Cuban president, Fidel Castro.

Mr Bush said the US would crack down on travel to the country and make it easier for dissidents to flee, as the White House stepped up pressure to end Mr Castro's 44-year rule.

"Clearly, the Castro regime will not change by its own choice," Mr Bush told a gathering at the White House Rose Garden. "But Cuba must change."

The White House had put together a team, he said, to plan for "the happy day when Castro's regime is no more and democracy comes to the island".

He said officials would step up enforcement of existing restrictions, such as a ban on tourism by Americans.

The US will also launch a campaign to point out to Cubans the ways they can legally enter the US if they try to flee their homeland.

"We'll increase the number of new Cuban immigrants we welcome every year," Mr Bush added.

"We are free to do so, and we will for the good of those who seek freedom."

The tough stance could help Mr Bush win the support of Miami's Cuban-American community, which could prove crucial when he seeks re-election next year.

Some of Mr Castro's most ardent opponents have criticised the Bush administration for not doing more to bring about democratic change in Cuba.

Last year, Mr Bush held out the promise of easing US sanctions if Cuba took steps towards democracy. But he said that had not happened.

"The dictator has responded with defiance and contempt and a new round of brutal oppression," the US president said.

Some business groups, Democratic representatives and free-trade Republicans favour relaxing sanctions such as the travel ban, saying they have been ineffective and are depriving American firms of potential profits.

But Mr Bush said money paid by American tourists who stayed in hotels in Cuba went straight to the government, with local workers paid only "a pittance".

Agencies in Washington

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