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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 12, 1996
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

Washington, D. C.

10:37 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Welcome to the White House Senator Helms, Senator Gramm, Senator Mack, Senator Lautenberg, Senator Coverdell, Congressman Menendez, Congressman Torricelli, Congressman Diaz-Balart, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Congressman Deutsch, Congressman Burton, Congressman Kennedy -- I hope I haven't missed any members of Congress who are here -- to the family members of those who were tragically shot down, Ambassador Albright, Assistant Secretary Watson, and my fellow Americans.

We are here today around a common commitment to bring democracy to Cuba. Two and a half weeks ago, the world received a harsh reminder of why a democratic Cuba is so important, not only to us but to the people of Cuba. In broad daylight and without justification, Cuban military jets shot down two unarmed United States civilian aircraft causing the deaths of three American citizens and one U.S. resident. The planes were unarmed, the pilots unwarned. They posed no threat to Cuba's security.

This was clearly a brutal and cruel act. It demanded a firm, immediate response. On my instructions, Ambassador Albright convened the United Nations Security Council which unanimously deplored Cuba's actions. Dozens of countries around the world expressed their revulsion. Cuba's blatant disregard for international law is not just an issue between Havana and Washington but between Havana and the world.

I ordered, also, a number of unilateral actions. One of those steps was to have my representatives work closely with Congress to reach prompt agreement on the Cuban Liberty and Democracy Solidarity Act. Within two days, and with the extra efforts of our friend, Congressman Menendez, Democrats and Republicans came together and produced a better bill. It will strengthen the embargo in a way that advances the cause of freedom in Cuba.

Today I sign it with a certainty that it will send a powerful, unified message from the United States to Havana, that the yearning of the Cuban people for freedom must not be denied. This bill continues our bipartisan effort to pursue an activist Cuba policy, an effort that began some four years ago with the Cuban Democracy Act.

Under the provisions of that legislation, our Administration has encouraged Cuba's peaceful transition to democracy. We have promoted the free flow of ideas to Cuba through greater support for Cuba's brave human rights activists, a dramatic increase in non-governmental humanitarian aide to the Cuban people, long distance telephone service. And the more the Cuban people are free to express the freedoms and rights their neighbors enjoy the more they will insist on change.

We have also kept the pressure on Cuba by maintaining a tough embargo policy. The legislation I sign today further tightens that embargo. It sends a strong message to the Cuban government. We will not tolerate attacks on United States citizens and we will stand with those both inside and outside Cuba who are working for a peaceful transition to freedom and democracy.

Finally, let me say as I sign this bill into law, I do so in the name of the four men who were killed when their planes were shot down on February the 24th: Armando Alejandre, Carlos Cofta, Mario De La Pena and Pablo Morales. In their memory, I will continue to do everything I can to help the tide of democracy that has swept our entire hemisphere, finally, finally reach the shores of Cuba.

The Cuban people must receive the blessings of freedom they have been so long denied. And I hope and believe that this day is another important step toward that ultimate goal that so many of you in this audience have worked so hard for, for so very, very long.

Thank you very much.