Fidel Castro calls for change in the US

Cuba's president Fidel Castro said 'the only change needed is in the United States'.

Fidel Castro calls for change in the US

In his first comments since announcing he would step down as Cuba's president after almost 50 years, Fidel Castro lashed out Friday at US presidential hopefuls' calls for change here, saying the only change needed is in the United States.

In his column "Reflections of Comrade Fidel" in the Communist Party newspaper Granma, the ailing Castro, 81, zeroed in on the international reaction, particularly by his US "adversary," to his announcement on Tuesday of his official departure from Cuba's helm.

Castro was sidelined 19 months ago after major intestinal surgery, and handed power temporarily to his brother, interim president Raul Castro, 76.

US President George W. Bush "said my message was the beginning of the road to freedom in Cuba, in other words, to annexation" by the United States, Castro wrote.

The United States occupied Cuba in the early 20th century and refuses to abandon its controversial naval base at Guantanamo, on Cuba's southeastern tip. That gives Havana plenty of political currency with which to warn almost daily that a US occupation or annexation effort could come at any time.

Fidel Castro said he had been watching on television "the embarrassing situation of all the US presidential candidates" whom he said were "forced, one by one, to make their immediate demands of Cuba, so that they would not risk losing a single voter."

"Half a century of economic embargo seemed like not much to these favourites. Change, Change, Change!" they shouted in a chorus. "Well I agree, but in the United States," Castro added.

"The end of one era is not the same thing as the beginning of an unsustainable system," Castro stressed.

"Cuba changed some time ago, and will continue on its dialectical path," added Castro, who leaves the presidency of the Americas' only one-party communist state.

Castro however has not left the party leadership.

In Austin, Texas, late Thursday, Democratic pace-setter Barack Obama said on Thursday that as president, he would be prepared to meet without preconditions with Cuba's next leader, during a debate with White House rival Hillary Clinton.

"I recall what John F. Kennedy said: we should never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate. But this opportunity that Fidel Castro has finally stepped down I think is one that we should take advantage of," Obama said.

"If we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that re-enforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time," Obama added. The neighbouring United States and Cuba do not have full diplomatic relations.

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday called on Cuba's Catholic Church to work for "reconciliation" in the Caribbean country, in a message delivered by his visiting right-hand man Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Cuban dissidents called on Bertone to urge Fidel Castro's successor to release the regime's political prisoners.

The first hint of Cuba's future direction will come on Sunday, when Cuba's National Assembly officially selects Castro's successor as president.

The assembly is widely expected to confirm Raul Castro as the new president.

Yet the communist legislature also choose to bring a younger generation to power, however, with Vice President Carlos Lage, 56, and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, 42, mentioned as possible heads of state.

Fidel Castro said he had "a clear conscience" about his decision to step down, and that "these tense days, awaiting" the National Assembly vote have left him exhausted.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 23 Şubat 2008, 12:32