- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2002

HAVANA Fidel Castro told Americans yesterday that they should never fear an attack by Cuba and can always count on this communist country's support in the war against terrorism.
In his first public comments since President Bush's tough Cuba speech on Monday, Mr. Castro told a rally of several hundred thousand people that Cuba does not fault Americans for their government's restrictions on the communist island and recognizes that many U.S. citizens support improved relations.
"Our struggle is not and never will be against the people of the United States," Mr. Castro said during the morning rally in the provincial capital of Sancti Spiritus, about 215 miles southeast of Havana.
"Cuba will never place blame or sow hate against the people of the United States for the aggressions that we have suffered because of their governments," Mr. Castro told a crowd the government estimated at 300,000 a figure impossible to verify independently.
Americans should never fear that Cuba would attack their country, Mr. Castro said in a 20-minute speech that he said was aimed largely at U.S. citizens. Rather, he said, "In their current difficulties and in the struggle against the scourge of terrorism, the people of the United States can count on our friendly, united and generous people."
Mr. Castro's speech seemed designed to engage Americans who support changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba. It also seemed aimed at assuaging any fears Americans may feel about Cuba after recent charges by the Bush administration that the communist island sponsors terrorism and could be developing germ warfare.
In Mr. Bush's speech on Monday, he said that trade sanctions against Cuba would not be lifted until Mr. Castro agrees to free all political prisoners, allow independently monitored elections and other conditions for a "new government that is fully democratic."
Mr. Castro said he was "hurt" to think Americans would believe that Cuba supported terrorism or could be involved in any way with weapons of mass destruction.
"A single drop of blood has never been shed in the United States, nor has an atom of wealth been lost there in the 43 years of the Cuban Revolution due to terrorist actions launched in Cuba," Mr. Castro said, speaking before a wooden lectern in his traditional olive green uniform.
As for suggestions by the Bush administration that Cuba has transferred biowarfare technology to "rogue" nations, Mr. Castro said: "In our country, no one has ever thought of developing such weapons. Our scientists have been educated for the sacred mission of protecting life and not for destroying it."
Mr. Bush's decision to keep up the pressure on Mr. Castro comes amid growing moves in the opposite direction by Americans who want the embargo to be eased or lifted.

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