Dissidents in Cuba
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June 2007
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JUNE 5, 2007


[*] BUSH: President Ilves, Foreign Minister Swarzenberg, and
distinguished guests: Laura and I are pleased to be back in Prague, and
we appreciate the gracious welcome to this historic hall. Tomorrow I
will attend the G-8 Summit, where I will meet with the leaders of the
world's most powerful economies. This afternoon, I stand with men and
women who represent an even greater power — the power of human

In this room are dissidents and democratic activists from 17 countries
on five continents. You follow different traditions — you practice
different faiths — and you face different challenges. But you are
united by an unwavering conviction: that freedom is the non- negotiable
right of every man, woman, and child — and the path to lasting peace in
our world.

This conference was conceived by three of the great advocates for
freedom in our time: Jose Maria Aznar, Vaclav Havel, and Natan
Sharansky. I thank them for the invitation to address this inspiring
assembly — and for showing the world that an individual with moral
clarity and courage can change the course of history.

It is fitting that we meet in the Czech Republic — a nation at the
heart of Europe, and of the struggle for freedom on this continent. Nine
decades ago, Tomas Masaryk proclaimed Czechoslovakia's independence
based on the "ideals of modern democracy." That democracy was
interrupted -first by the Nazis and then by the Communists, who seized
power in a shameful coup that left the Foreign Minister dead in the
courtyard of this palace.

Through the long darkness of Soviet occupation, the true face of this
nation was never in doubt. The world saw it in the reforms of the Prague
Spring and the principled demands of Charter 77. Those efforts were met
with tanks and truncheons and arrests by secret police. But the violent
would not have the final word. In 1989, thousands gathered in Wenceslas
Square to call for their freedom. Theaters like the Magic Lantern became
headquarters for dissidents. Workers left their factories to support a
strike. And within weeks, the regime crumbled. Vaclav Havel went from
prisoner of state to head of state. And the people of Czechoslovakia
brought down the Iron Curtain with a Velvet Revolution.

Across Europe, similar scenes were unfolding. In Poland, a movement that
began in a single shipyard freed people across a nation. In Hungary,
mourners gathered in Heroes Square to bury a slain reformer — and
buried their communist regime too. In East Germany, families came
together for prayer meetings — and found the strength to tear down a
wall. Soon, activists emerged from the attics and church basements to
reclaim the streets of Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Latvia, Lithuania,
and Estonia. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved peacefully in this very room.
And after seven decades of oppression, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

Behind these astonishing achievements was the triumph of freedom in the
battle of ideas. The Communists had an imperial ideology that claimed to
know the direction of history. But in the end, it was overpowered by
ordinary people who wanted to live their lives, and worship their God,
and speak the truth to their children without fear. The Communists had
the harsh rule of Brezhnev, and Honecker, and Ceausescu. But in the end,
it was no match for the vision of Walesa and Havel — the defiance of
Sakharov and Sharansky — the resolve of Reagan and Thatcher — and the
fearless witness of John Paul. From this experience, a clear lesson has
emerged: Freedom can be resisted, and freedom can be delayed — but
freedom cannot be denied.

In the years since liberation, Central and Eastern European nations have
navigated the difficult transition to democracy. Leaders made the tough
reforms needed to enter NATO and the European Union. Citizens claimed
their freedom in the Balkans and beyond. And now, after centuries of war
and suffering, the continent of Europe is at peace at last.

With this new era have come new threats to freedom. In dark and
repressive corners of the world, whole generations grew up with no voice
in their government and no hope in their future. This life of oppression
bred deep resentment. And for many, resentment boiled over into
radicalism and violence. The world saw the result on September the 11th,
2001 — when terrorists based in Afghanistan sent 19 suicidal men to
murder nearly 3,000 innocent people in the United States.

For some, this attack called for a narrow response. In truth,
Nine-Eleven was evidence of a much broader danger — an international
movement of violent Islamic extremists that threatens free people
everywhere. The extremists' ambition is to build a totalitarian empire
that spans all current and former Muslim lands — including parts of
Europe. And their strategy to achieve that goal is to frighten the world
into surrender through a ruthless campaign of terrorist murder.

To confront this enemy, America and our allies have taken the offensive
with the full range of our military, intelligence, and law enforcement
capabilities. Yet this battle is more than a military conflict. Like the
Cold War, it is an ideological struggle between two fundamentally
different visions of humanity. On one side are the extremists, who
promise paradise but deliver a life of public beatings, repression of
women, and suicide bombings. On the other side are huge numbers of
moderate men and women — including millions in the Muslim world — who
believe that every human life has dignity and value that no power on
earth can take away.

The most powerful weapon in the struggle against extremism is not
bullets or bombs — it is the universal appeal of freedom. Freedom is
the design of our Maker, and the longing of every soul. Freedom is the
best way to unleash the creativity and economic potential of a nation.
Freedom is the only ordering of a society that leads to justice. And
human freedom is the only way to achieve human rights.

Expanding freedom is more than a moral imperative — it is the only
realistic way to protect our people. Years ago, Andrei Sakharov warned
that "a country that does not respect the rights of its own people will
not respect the rights of its neighbors." History proves him right.
Governments accountable to their people do not attack each other.
Democracies address problems through the political process — instead of
blaming outside scapegoats. Young people who can disagree openly with
their leaders are less likely to adopt violent ideologies. And nations
that commit to freedom for their people will not support extremists —
they will join in defeating them. For all these reasons, the United
States is committed to the advance of freedom and democracy as the great
alternatives to repression and radicalism. And we have a historic
objective in view. In my Second Inaugural Address, I pledged America to
the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. Some have said that
qualifies me as a "dissident president." If standing for liberty in the
world makes me a dissident, then I'll wear the title with pride.

America has pursued our freedom agenda in many ways — some vocal and
visible, others quiet and hidden from view.

Ending tyranny requires support for the forces of conscience that
undermine repressive societies from within. The Soviet dissident Andrei
compared a tyrannical state to a soldier who constantly points a
gun at his enemy — until his arms finally tire and the prisoner
escapes. The role of the free world is to put pressure on the arms of
the world's tyrants — and strengthen the prisoners who are trying to
speed their collapse.

So I have met personally with dissidents and democratic activists from
some of the world's worst dictatorships — including Belarus, Burma,
Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. At this conference, I look
forward to meeting other dissidents, including some from Iran and Syria.
One of these dissidents is Mamoun Homsi. In 2001, this man was an
independent member of the Syrian parliament who issued a declaration
asking the government to begin respecting human rights. For this
entirely peaceful act, he was arrested and sent to jail — where he
spent several years beside other innocent advocates of a free Syria.

Another dissident I will meet with here is Rebiyah Kadeer of China,
whose sons have been jailed in what we believe is an act of retaliation
for her human rights activities. The talent of men and women like
Rebiyah is the greatest resource of their nations — far more valuable
than the weapons of their army or oil under the ground. So America calls
on every nation that stifles dissent to end its repression, trust its
people, and grant its citizens the freedom they deserve.

There are many other dissidents who could not join us — because they
are being unjustly imprisoned or held under house arrest. I look forward
to the day when conferences like this one include Alexander Kozulin of
Belarus — Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma — Oscar Elias Biscet of Cuba —
Father Nguyen Van Ly of Vietnam — and Ayman Nour of Egypt. The daughter
of one of these political prisoners is in this room. And to all their
families: I thank you for your courage. I pray for your comfort and
strength. And I call for the immediate and unconditional release of your
loved ones.

In the eyes of America, the democratic dissidents of today are the
democratic leaders of tomorrow. So we are taking new steps to strengthen
our support for them. We recently created a Human Rights Defenders Fund,
which provides grants for the legal defense and medical expenses of
activists arrested or beaten by repressive governments. I strongly
support the Prague Document that your conference plans to issue, which
states that "the protection of human rights is critical to international
peace and security." And in keeping with the goals of that declaration,
I have asked Secretary Rice to send a directive to every U.S. ambassador
in an un-free nation: Seek out and meet with activists for democracy and
human rights.

People living in tyranny need to know they are not forgotten. North
Koreans live in a closed society where dissent is brutally suppressed,
and they are cut off from their brothers and sisters to the south. The
Iranians are a great people who deserve to chart their own future — but
they are denied their liberty by a handful of extremists whose pursuit
of nuclear weapons prevents their country from taking its rightful place
in the community of nations.

The Cubans are desperate for freedom — and as that nation enters a
period of transition, we must insist on free elections, free speech, and
free assembly. And in Sudan, freedom is denied and basic human rights
are violated by a government that pursues genocide against its own
citizens. My message to all those who suffer under tyranny is this: We
will never excuse your oppressors, and we will always stand for your

Freedom is also under assault in countries that had shown some progress.
In Venezuela, elected leaders have resorted to a shallow populism to
dismantle democratic institutions and tighten their grip on power. The
government of Uzbekistan continues to silence independent voices by
jailing human rights activists. And Vietnam recently arrested and
imprisoned a number of peaceful religious and political activists.

These developments are discouraging, but there are more reasons for
optimism. At the start of the 1980s, there were only 45 democracies on
Earth. There are now more than 120 democracies — and more people now
live in freedom than ever before. And it is the responsibility of those
who enjoy the blessings of liberty to help those who are struggling to
establish free societies. So the United States has nearly doubled
funding for democracy projects. We are working with our partners in the
G-8 to promote the rise of a vibrant civil society in the Middle East
through initiatives like the Forum for the Future.

We are cooperating side-by-side with the new democracies in Ukraine,
Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. We congratulate the people of Yemen on their
landmark presidential election, and the people of Kuwait on elections in
which women were able to vote and run for office for the first time. And
we stand firmly behind the people of Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq as
they defend their democratic gains against extremist enemies. The people
of these nations are making great sacrifices for liberty. They deserve
the admiration of the free world — and they deserve our unwavering

The United States is also using our influence to urge valued partners
like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan to move toward freedom. These
nations have taken brave stands and strong action to confront
extremists, along with some steps to expand liberty and transparency.
Yet they have a great distance still to travel. The United States will
continue to press nations like these to open up their political systems,
and give a greater voice to their people. Inevitably, this creates
tension. But our relationships with these countries are broad enough and
deep enough to bear it. As our relationships with South Korea and Taiwan
during the Cold War prove, America can maintain a friendship and push a
nation toward democracy at the same time.

We are also applying that lesson to our relationships with Russia and
China. The United States has strong working relationships with these
countries. Our friendship with them is complex. In the areas where we
share mutual interests, we work together. In other areas, we have strong
disagreements. For example, China's leaders believe that they can
continue to open the nation's economy without also opening its political
system. In Russia, reforms that once promised to empower citizens have
been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development.
Part of a good relationship is the ability to talk openly about our
disagreements. So the United States will continue to build our
relationships with these countries — and we will do it without
abandoning our principles or our values.

We appreciate that free societies take shape at different speeds in
different places. One virtue of democracy is that it reflects local
history and traditions. Yet there are fundamental elements that all
democracies share — freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly —
rule of law enforced by independent courts — private property rights —
and political parties that compete in free and fair elections. These
rights and institutions are the foundation of human dignity, and as
countries find their own path to freedom, they will find a loyal partner
in the United States.

Extending the reach of freedom is a mission that unites democracies
around the world. And some of the greatest contributions are coming from
nations with the freshest memories of tyranny. I appreciate the Czech
Republic's support
for human rights projects in Belarus, Burma, and
Cuba. I thank Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia,
Georgia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Croatia for contributing to the new
United Nations Democracy Fund. And I am grateful for the commitment many
new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe are making to Afghanistan
and Iraq. The Afghan and Iraqi people look to you as a model of liberty
— and they will remember that you stood with them when they needed it

In all these ways, the freedom agenda is making a difference. The work
has been difficult, and that will not change. There will be triumphs and
failures, progress and setbacks. Ending tyranny cannot be achieved
overnight. And of course, this objective has its critics.

Some say that ending tyranny means "imposing our values" on people who
do not share them — or live in parts of the world where freedom cannot
take root. That is refuted by the fact that every time people are given
a choice, they choose freedom. We saw that when the people of Latin
America turned dictatorships into democracies — and the people of South
Africa replaced apartheid with a free society — and the people of
Indonesia ended their long authoritarian rule. We saw it when Ukrainians
in orange scarves demanded that their ballots be counted.

And we saw it when millions of Afghans and Iraqis defied the terrorists
to elect free governments. At a polling station in Baghdad, an Iraqi man
with one leg told a reporter, "I would have crawled here if I had to."
Was democracy imposed on that man? Was freedom a value he did not share?
The truth is that the only ones who have to impose their values are the
tyrants. That is why the communists crushed the Prague Spring — and
threw an innocent playwright in jail — and trembled at the sight of a
Polish Pope. History shows that ultimately, freedom conquers fear. And
given the chance, freedom will conquer fear in every nation on earth.

Another objection is that ending tyranny will unleash chaos. Critics
point to the violence in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Lebanon as evidence
that freedom leaves people less safe. But look at who is causing that
violence. It is the terrorists. And it is no coincidence that they are
targeting young democracies in the Middle East. They know that the
success of free societies there is a mortal threat to their ambitions —
and to their very survival. The fact that our enemies are fighting back
is not a reason to doubt democracy. It is evidence that they recognize
democracy's power. It is evidence that we are at war. And it is evidence
that free nations must do what it takes to prevail.

Still, some argue that a safer goal would be stability — especially in
the Middle East. The problem is that pursuing stability at the expense
of liberty does not lead to peace — it leads to September the 11th,
2001. The policy of tolerating tyranny is a moral and strategic failure.
And it is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.

Others fear that democracy will bring dangerous forces to power, such as
Hamas in the Palestinian Territories. Elections will not always turn out
the way we hope. Yet democracy consists of more than a single trip to
the ballot box. Democracy requires meaningful opposition parties, a
vibrant civil society, and a government that enforces the law and
responds to the needs of its people. Elections can accelerate the
creation of such institutions. In a democracy, people will not vote for
a life of perpetual violence. To stay in power, elected officials must
listen to their people and pursue their desire for peace — or the
voters will replace them through free elections with leaders who do.

Finally, there is the contention that ending tyranny is unrealistic.
Some argue that extending democracy around the world is simply too
difficult to be achieved. That is nothing new. At every stage of the
Cold War, there were those who argued that the Berlin Wall was permanent
— and that people behind the Iron Curtain would never overcome their

The lesson is that freedom will always have skeptics. But that is not
the whole story. There are also people like you, and the loved ones you
represent — men and women with the courage to risk everything for your
ideals. In his first address as President, Vaclav Havel proclaimed,
"People, your government has returned to you!" He was echoing the first
speech of President Tomas Masaryk — who was in turn quoting the 17th
century Czech teacher Comenius. His message was that freedom is timeless.

It does not belong to one government or one generation. Freedom is the
dream and the right of every person in every nation in every age. The
United States of America believes deeply in that message. It was the
inspiration for our founding, when we declared that all men are created
equal. It was the conviction that led us to help liberate this
continent, and stand with the captive nations through their long
struggle. It is the truth that guides our Nation to oppose terror and
tyranny in the world today. And it is the reason I have such great
confidence in the men and women in this room.

I leave Prague with certainty that the cause of freedom is not tired —
and that its future is in the best of hands. With unbreakable faith in
the power of liberty, you will inspire your people — you will lead your
nations — and you will change the world. Thank you, and God bless you all.


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