- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2006

From combined dispatches

HAVANA — Cuba’s publicity-averse president, Raul Castro, made his first public comments since brother Fidel was hospitalized, telling how he immediately mobilized tens of thousands of troops to defend the island against a U.S. “invasion.”

“We could not rule out the risk of somebody going crazy, or even crazier, within the U.S. government,” he said in the interview published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma, in which he also blasted President Bush’s plans for a post-Castro Cuba.

Washington, which has called talk of an invasion absurd, yesterday dismissed Raul Castro’s remarks as the musings of “Fidel light.”

“Wow. Gee. I guess you’re asking me what we think of remarks by Fidel’s baby brother?,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters. “And what do we think of them?

“We’re not particularly fond, as you know, of the government of Cuba as run by Fidel. I can’t say that we’re particularly enamored of the first words we’ve heard from ‘Fidel light,’ ” Mr. Casey said.

Raul Castro, 75, also said his brother’s improvement had been “progressive,” since he underwent a complicated surgical procedure last month.

Fidel Castro’s physical and mental strength have helped his “satisfactory and gradual recovery,” his brother said. “Absolute tranquillity is reigning in the country.”

Cuba announced on July 31 that Fidel Castro, who turned 80 on Sunday, underwent surgery for intestinal bleeding and had delegated the presidency provisionally to Raul, the defense minister and designated successor.

Raul Castro said there had been an outpouring of support from Cubans for the government. “It has been a clear demonstration of the people’s unbeatable unity and revolutionary conscience, essential pillars of our country.”

His appointment sparked speculation that Fidel Castro’s 47-year rule in one of the world’s last communist bastions might be ending. Rumors were fueled when neither Raul nor Fidel Castro appeared in public until pictures and video were released two weeks later.

“As a matter of fact, I am not used to making frequent appearances in public, except at times when it is required,” Raul Castro told Granma from his office at the Ministry of Defense.

He said many of his activities as defense minister were best kept out of the public light, adding, “Moreover, I have always been discreet, that is my way, and in passing let me clarify that I plan to continue that way.”

He said Cuba has been and will continue to be open to talks with the United States to try to improve relations that were formally ended in 1961. That, however, required respect for Cuban sovereignty as a precondition, he said.

Raul Castro said U.S. efforts to speed up a transition to democracy in Cuba would get nowhere and warned that “millions and millions” of Cubans were prepared to defend their country against U.S. intervention “rifle in hand.”

“So far the attacks have only been rhetorical, with the exception of the substantial increase in subversive radio and television broadcasts against Cuba,” he said.

Raul Castro said Washington was wasting millions of dollars in taxpayer money. Few people in Cuba appear to get TV or Radio Marti because of government jamming.

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