Bush Eagerly Awaited This Day
KIGALI, Rwanda -- It was the moment that nine other American presidents waited for but never saw. Finally, Fidel Castro, the bete noire of Washington for the past half-century, is stepping down.
For President Bush, the news caught up to him here in Africa when Ben Feller of the Associated Press called out a question during a photo op with Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley briefed him about the reports coming out of Havana. It's not entirely clear who actually broke the news to him first.
Either way, Bush was all smiles when the question came up again at a later question-and-answer session with reporters, although he had the self-restraint to not cheer or whoop or anything that might look unseemly. After all, much like his predecessors, Bush has eagerly anticipated this day, even if he never imagined it would come while he was in Africa. Once last year, he even waxed publicly about Castro's death.
"The question really should be: What does this mean for the people in Cuba?" he asked today in Kigali before flying onto Accra, Ghana. "They're the ones who suffered under Fidel Castro. They're the ones who were put in prison because of their beliefs. They're the ones who have been denied their right to live in a free society."
Bush said he views Castro's decision to step down as an opportunity to bring democracy to Cuba, although he did not say how that might happen given that Castro's circle remains in tight control of the island. Bush has on occasion met with Cuban dissidents and relatives of political prisoners and he has over the years increased funding for U.S.-sponsored radio broadcasts into Cuba.
"This transition ought to lead to free and fair elections -- and I mean free and I mean fair, not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as being true democracy," Bush said. "And we're going to help. The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty."
Still looking for any photos that would let us know if the president went off to privately bang some bongos in celebration as the last president did when good news caught up to him during a trip to Africa.
-- Peter Baker
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