- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Castro’s complaint

It’s a given that the typical world ruler has amassed a personal fortune worth more than the average Joe’s.

Think again, says Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who insists that he’s a mere peasant among his people.

Maria Werlau, principal of Orbis International Consulting and president of the Free Society Project, described it best when she said Mr. Castro is “throwing a major tantrum” — on Cuban television, no less — over his listing by Forbes magazine as the world’s seventh-wealthiest ruler.

And the Summit, N.J., resident, whose research is cited as one source for the ranking, is in Mr. Castro’s verbal line of fire.

“He’s really hit the roof with this,” Ms. Werlau told Inside the Beltway in a telephone interview. “It’s almost hysterical that he and his foreign minister say that committing suicide is the only honorable thing for me to do. Now that’s going over the top.”

The Forbes article, “Fortunes Of Kings, Queens And Dictators,” estimates Mr. Castro’s personal wealth at about $900 million.

“The evidence stands on its own,” Ms. Werlau told us.

Nonsense, Mr. Castro said.

“All this makes me sick,” he told the state-run public-affairs show, “Round Table,” as monitored by the Associated Press in Havana. “Why should I defend myself against this rubbish?”

What about suggestions that the Cuban leader has his money stashed in foreign accounts?

“If they can prove I have an account abroad,” Mr. Castro said, banging his fist on the table, “containing even one dollar, I will resign my post.”

While she certainly would welcome the dictator’s resignation, Ms. Werlau said it’s more likely that his demise will have to await the “impending biological solution.”

As for another suggestion by the Cuban government that she put a bucket over her head, Ms. Werlau assured us: “I’m trying to stay out of buckets over the Memorial Day weekend.”

Inside Blair House

Former U.S. presidents recently were asked to consider donating an original work of art from their personal collections to be enjoyed by visiting foreign heads of state and other VIP guests staying at the historic Blair House, across the street from the White House.

We see that among the first to arrive is “Early Morning Kennebunkport,” a watercolor gift from former President George Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush of their vacation home in Maine.

The Bush painting was displayed prominently for guests at last week’s annual spring reception that honors the Friends of the Blair House, whose support is crucial for the upkeep of the 110-room “President’s Guest House,” as it’s called (actually the Blair and Lee mansions, and two conjoining 19th-century row houses that face Lafayette Park.)

Greeting guests this year was Ande Metzger, who oversees the Blair House Restoration Fund and its 18-member board of trustees. Barely hours before, as Mrs. Metzger said, the Blair House was the home away from home for visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who held meetings with President Bush.

Trustees this year are undertaking numerous refurbishments for Blair House, including a new sprinkler system, carpeting, wallpaper, bed linens and planters and a replacement fountain for the Arthur and Janet Ross Garden.

Oh, and a major crack that has appeared in Bedroom 21 — Bess Truman’s former bedroom during the first family’s stay in Blair House from 1948 to 1952 — will be repaired soon.

Harry S. Truman was just down the hallway in what today is called the Eisenhower Sitting Room, dedicated by Mamie Eisenhower in 1970 to honor her late husband, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The Blair House is not open to the general public. During our rare tour, we noticed two of Eisenhower’s own “Sunday” paintings hanging in the second-floor sitting room — one of a brilliant sunset over a lake, the other of a country cottage.

Among those honored at this year’s reception were John and Diana Zentay, who, as in the past, have donated another large group of framed historic American prints from their private collection.

Amtrak anyone?

In 2004, before fuel prices skyrocketed, the Air Force estimated that it cost $56,800 per hour to operate Air Force One.

Which means that PresidentBush’s quick 22-minute flight from Philadelphia back home to Washington last week probably cost taxpayers about $30,000, give or take a thousand.

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected]

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