Trump rails against 'cruel despotism' in Cuba

Washington (AFP) - Donald Trump on Saturday railed against "cruel despotism" in Cuba, saying the island nation's people deserve a government that upholds democracy.

In a tribute issued by the US president on Cuban Independence Day, he said that "cruel despotism cannot extinguish the flame of freedom in the hearts of Cubans, and... unjust persecution cannot tamper Cubans' dreams for their children to live free from oppression."

The one-party communist island of Cuba has been ruled by Raul Castro for 12 years after he took over from his ailing revolutionary leader brother Fidel, who died in November having defied the United States during a half-century of iron-fisted rule.

Former US President Barack Obama presided over a US opening toward the country, with full diplomatic ties restored after decades, but Trump has threatened to roll back the historic rapprochement.

"The Cuban people deserve a government that peacefully upholds democratic values, economic liberties, religious freedoms, and human rights, and my Administration is committed to achieving that vision," he said in the statement.

"Americans and Cubans share allegiance to the principles of self-governance, dignity, and freedom," he added.

He also recalled the 19th-century independence hero Jose Marti, who he said "devoted himself to making Cuba an economically competitive and politically autonomous nation."

The statement comes two weeks after a top US official in the State Department said Trump's administration would press Cuba on human rights progress and said it was carrying out a "comprehensive policy review".

Raul Castro, 85, has said that he will step aside in February 2018. It is not clear who will take his place next year as president.

Cuba officially became an independent nation on May 20, 1902 after fighting a war of independence, backed by the United States, against Spain from 1895-98.