- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2004

HAVANA — Cuban leader Fidel Castro yesterday accused President Bush of ordering his assassination and vowed to “go down fighting” if there was a U.S. invasion.

In a five-hour speech, the 77-year-old communist president shot down rumors about his health and heightened his attacks on the “belligerent behavior” of the United States and its leader.

“We knew that Mr. Bush had made a commitment with the mafia of the Cuban-American Foundation to kill me. I accuse him of this,” Mr. Castro told about 1,000 representatives from 32 nations attending a conference in Havana against the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas.

“This dead man can still talk. This dead man can make plans. This dead man … is not dead yet.”

There have been rumors about Mr. Castro’s health since the mayor of the Colombian capital Bogota, Luis Eduardo Garzon, said he found Mr. Castro “very sick” and “physically limited” during a recent visit to Cuba.

Mr. Castro, who was the target of several CIA assassination plots in the 1960s, accused Mr. Bush of conspiring with the Cuban-American community of Florida to kill him.

Tensions have been rising again between the United States and Cuba in recent months with Mr. Bush entering into a re-election campaign and Mr. Castro cracking down on the pro-democracy opposition in the island he has ruled for 45 years.

Mr. Castro said that Cuba does not want “a war [against] Yankee imperialism” but he insisted that the communist nation “will not budge at all from our principles.”

The Cuban leader received thunderous applause when he said: “I am not asking to survive a war. I’ve already done my part and I still have to do what I have to do. With weapons in hand, I don’t care how I die, but I’m confident that if they invade us, I will go down fighting.”

Mr. Castro also spent 45 minutes of his speech reading news agency reports of what he called “hostile” statements by senior U.S. officials.

Mr. Bush has set up a special government commission to monitor events in Cuba and at a recent summit of the Americas in Mexico called on other leaders to work for a speedy and peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba.

The U.S. administration has also sought to increase pressure on Latin American nations that it considers have been too friendly with Mr. Castro.

Roger Noriega, the undersecretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, recently accused Cuba of “actions to destabilize Latin America [that] are increasingly provocative to the inter-American community.”

He has said that the United States will quickly send aid to Cuba after Mr. Castro’s death.

“Castro will not live forever and there will be democratic change and a democratic government in Cuba,” Mr. Noriega said. “The stakes are very high for us.”

Cuba has in turn stepped up islandwide preparations for any kind of attack from the United States.

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