Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Castro Rips Bush as Anti-U.S. March Begins

Tuesday, January 24, 2006; Posted: 10:00 a.m. EST (15:00 GMT)

HAVANA, Cuba (AP) -- Fidel Castro accused the United States of seeking to rupture the minimum remaining diplomatic ties with his country, addressing tens of thousands of Cubans before starting a march outside the American mission here on Tuesday.

"The rude provocations that have been undertaken from its Interests Office in Havana does not, and could not, have any other goal," Castro said from a podium before the sea of cheering people stretching out along Havana's Malecon coastal highway ahead of the government-organized march.

"Bush: fascist! Condemn the terrorist!" the marchers chanted, most of them waving little red, white and blue Cuban flags and signs equating President Bush with Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles, whom Castro accuses of a series of violent actions against the island. "Cuba will triumph!" they shouted.

Among those Castro greeted before his speech was former Nicaraguan president and Sandinista Party leader Daniel Ortega.

Also seen in the crowd were Castro's wife, Dalia, his older brother Ramon and his eldest son Fidel Jr., along with top Communist Party leaders. The marchers included Elian Gonzalez, the boy at the center of an international custody battle in 2000, and his family, as well as relatives of five Cuban agents imprisoned in the United States.

Castro called the march to protest recent U.S. actions aimed at Cuba, including new electronic signs activated a week ago along the mission's facade to broadcast human rights messages. The U.S. Interests Section in Havana handles consular affairs in the absence of full diplomatic relations.

The Cuban leader also accused the Bush administration of working with Cuban exiles in Miami to violate migration accords between the two countries, to block the legally permitted sales of American food to the island and of violating Cuba's independence with a post-Castro transition plan authorities here say is a thinly veiled attempt at regime change.

"The government of President Bush knows very well that no government in the world can accept such a perverse insult to its dignity and sovereignty," Castro said.

Human rights signs activated

The mission a week ago turned on signs with streaming text of news and sayings from Martin Luther King Jr. and excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory. The signs were activated as Castro began speaking Tesday morning.

"It's nonsense!" Carla Smith, a 61-year-old lawyer among those marching, said of the signs. "Within a few days, we'll have forgotten all about them."

The signs on the oceanfront building are the latest salvo in an ongoing billboard war between the two countries.

Cuba more than a year ago erected signs outside the mission with photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners and a huge swastika with a "Made in the U.S.A" stamp.

The signs were switched out on Monday for new ones equating Bush with Posada and Adolf Hitler.

Cuban authorities accuse U.S. officials of protecting Posada Carriles, characterized by Castro as the worst terrorist in the Western Hemisphere.

Posada Carriles to face court

The march was timed to coincide with a Tuesday court date for Posada Carriles, who is held at a U.S. federal detention center in El Paso, Texas, on immigration charges.

Cuban-born Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative, was arrested in Miami in May on charges he entered the United States illegally. He is awaiting an immigration judge's deportation ruling.

The militant is accused by Cuba and Venezuela of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner and of staging bombings in Havana in 1997 and 1998.

"He is a murderer, he should not be freed," said Smith, worried that Posada Carriles would be released from jail. "It's so unjust, we have to do something."

Castro also has accused Posada Carriles and his colleagues of plotting to assassinate the Cuban leader at a summit in Panama in November 2000.

No comments: