WASHINGTON, May 7: US President George Bush on Thursday offered new steps he said would help hasten the end of Cuban President Fidel Castro's rule, such as stepping up anti-Castro propaganda and bolstering dissidents groups , as he played to Cuban-American voters in Florida.
Bush will tighten limits on visits to Cuba by American family members and increase sting operations to keep money for relatives from falling into the government's hands. He also wants to deploy airplanes to prevent Cuba from jamming anti-Castro broadcasts by the United States.
Up to $59 million will be earmarked for anti-Castro efforts over the next two years. Saying he wanted to "hasten the day that Cuba will be a free country," Bush's new policy came as his administration faces world outrage over a prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.
Critics say the furor has seriously undermined U.S attempts to portray itself as a "liberator" in Iraq and elsewhere. Bush announced the Cuba policy after he received a 500-page report by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, an inter-agency effort led by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"This strategy...encourages the spending of money to help organizations to protect dissidents and to promote human rights," he said. "It is a strategy that encourages a clear voice of the truth being spoken to the Cuban people through Radio and TV Marti."
Florida is home to around 450,000 Cuban Americans, 68.5 percent of whom are registered with Bush's Republican party. Support from anti-Castro Cuban-Americans helped Bush win a disputed but crucial victory in Florida in 2000. The state could again prove key in the 2004 election.
The anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation said it was eager for the measures to be adopted. -Reuters