WASHINGTON - President Bush, seizing on Fidel Castro's fading health as a chance for rare change, will ask other nations today to help Cuba become a free society one day by committing money and political capital to the cause.
In a speech at the State Department - his first stand-alone address on Cuba in four years - Bush will look to the day when Castro is gone. Bush will describe a nation in which Cuban people choose a representative government and enjoy basic freedoms, with support from a broad international coalition.
For now, though, Castro is still the island's unchallenged leader, as he has been for almost 50 years. And he remains a nemesis to Bush, whom he accuses of being obsessed with Cuba and of threatening humanity with nuclear war. At age 81, Castro is ailing and rarely seen in public. But life has changed little on the island under the authority of his brother, 76-year-old Raul Castro, his hand-chosen successor for decades.
Bush will propose at least three initiatives: the creation of an international "freedom fund" to help Cuba's potential rebuilding of its country one day; a US licensing of private groups to provide Internet access to Cuban students; and an invitation to Cuban youth to join a scholarship program.
The latter two offerings help the Bush administration underscore the kind of real-life limitations that Cubans now face - from blocked Internet access to restricted information about their leaders to denial of legal protections. The international fund is to speed up societal transformation.