- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.— President Bush yesterday singled out Cuba as the only nondemocratic nation in the Western Hemisphere during a speech to the Organization of American States, but said “the tide of freedom” would one day reach the communist island.

The president, who was addressing the 34-member body at its annual summit, noted that 30 years ago, fewer than half of the OAS members had democratically elected governments.

“Today, all 34 countries participating in this General Assembly have democratic, constitutional governments. Only one country in this hemisphere sits outside this society of democratic nations — and one day the tide of freedom will reach Cuba’s shores as well,” Mr. Bush said.

In a short speech long on the merits of democracy and free trade, Mr. Bush urged all Latin American nations to continue to work toward being true democracies. He warned that while free elections are “exhilarating events … we know from experience they can be followed by moments of uncertainty.”

“Each nation must follow its own course, according to its own history. Yet the old and new democracies of the Americas share a common interest in showing every citizen of our hemisphere that freedom brings not just peace — it brings a better life for themselves and their families.”

Venezuelan leaders — who say U.S. admonitions to Latin America are targeted primarily at their nation — lashed out at the United States before and after the speech, saying the United States is seeking to impose its own brand of democracy on its neighbors.

In Caracas Sunday, President Hugo Chavez said: “So, they’re going to monitor the Venezuelan government through the OAS? They must be joking.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez said at a press conference after Mr. Bush’s speech that although the president did not single out Venezuela by name, his pro-democracy proposal “seems aimed at one country” — his.

Mr. Rodriguez added the OAS charter is “extremely clear” in demanding a policy of nonintervention in the internal affairs of member states.

Mr. Bush spoke for 13 minutes with the crowd applauding twice — for his line on Cuba and when he urged Congress to pass the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement, known as DR-CAFTA.

“For the young democracies of Central America, CAFTA would bring new investment, and that means good jobs and higher labor standards for their workers,” Mr. Bush said.

Outside the Fort Lauderdale convention center, where the OAS General Assembly was meeting, hundreds of demonstrators protested the president’s visit, some waving Haitian flags and banging drums, others criticizing globalization.

The OAS, founded in 1948, is the only political forum encompassing the entire region, including North, Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Cuba is the only country excluded, owing to its one-party system of government.

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