Cuba broadcasts large segment of Bush's critical speech

MIAMI — In a highly unusual move, the Cuban government media Thursday published an entire page of excerpts from President Bush's speech on the island, and earlier broadcast some 15 minutes of his address on television.

The step surprised veteran Cuba watchers, who said the rare decision to let Cubans see and read Bush's withering criticism of Havana's leadership clearly signals a shift in strategy — though they're not sure in what direction.

"In the past, they would summarize speeches or quote the parts they liked that suited their purposes," human rights activist Vladimiro Roca said by telephone from Havana. "I'll tell you this: Something is behind this. If I only knew what."

Bush gave a 30-minute address Wednesday about Cuba, his first in four years. He attacked the Castro administration and outlined ways that Washington could help in the event communism collapsed and freedom took its place.

Using a feed from CNN en Espanol, hours later the Cuban TV news program Mesa Redonda (Round Table) aired the second half of Bush's speech.

Although the Bush administration recalls Cuba also broadcast a part of a Bush speech last year — and ran critical comments by former President Jimmy Carter — it was the first time that any sitting U.S. president appeared for that length of time and unedited in decades.

Thursday's Communist Party daily Granma printed about half of Bush's address in a full page under the headline "Essential Parts of Bush's Speech."

Left out: references by name of various political prisoners on the island. The line, "the socialist paradise is a tropical gulag," also did not make it.

But plenty stayed in. The article included Bush's attacks on the Castro brothers, including references to rat-infested jails and a police state. The paper also published Bush's calls for freedom of the press and the right to travel abroad.

The transcript also included the parts where Bush directly addressed Cuban people, including the military.

The U.S. State Department, which hosted Bush for his speech, declined to comment on "what a government controlled press airs or prints."

One Cuban academic said the decision to run the speech was the talk of Havana's academic circles Thursday. But he said most ordinary Cubans did not watch it: the Round Table program is so dull hardly anyone watches it.

Some experts wondered whether the decision to air and print the speech was part of interim president Raul Castro's campaign to open the Cuban news media to criticism. Castro, in office since his brother Fidel fell ill 15 months ago, has allowed the media to run articles critical of the system, and also convened neighborhood meetings to air complaints.

"I am not surprised, because there have been changes in the media which are definitely part of Raul Castro's decisions," Rafael Hernandez, editor of the political magazine Issues, said by phone from Havana. "The changes in the press are something that should have happened sooner."

Hernandez said the Cuban leadership also probably decided to run the speech so Cubans could see Bush and judge for themselves.

"I think U.S. policy is like any horror movie monster," Hernandez said. "It's enough to show it on TV. Display it under the light of the moon like the Wolf Man; anyone with the most minimal capacity for observation — eyes — can see the nature of that policy for themselves."

While Cuban officials did not volunteer any motives for the air and print space devoted to the speech, the prevailing view was that Raul Castro made a calculated move to show that Bush has little resonance within Cuba and that the Cuban government gains by looking good before an international audience.

Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, agrees that Raul Castro may be looking to score points abroad but says the move may backfire by stirring up Cubans.

"They aren't 10 feet tall," said Noriega. "I think they made a major mistake."

Bush's words to the military also makes him seem interventionist and even plays to the fears many Cubans have of change.

"The speech is just not very real, and they're happy to put it in the paper and show people what he's saying, because it strengthens their position," said Philip Peters, of the Lexington Institute think tank in Alexandria, Va. "What helps the Cuban government immensely is that many Cubans fear change, and there are many things in this speech that feed that fear."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said it's hard to make sense out of the Cuban government.

"Perhaps the regime believes that hope and opportunity are frightening concepts for the Cuban people to handle," she said. "Who knows why regime officials do what they do?"