By KEVIN GRAY | Associated Press Writer
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—To the cheers of thousands of screaming Argentines, Cuban leader Fidel Castro criticized U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Latin America in a speech Monday.
Castro, who attended Sunday’s inauguration of President Nestor Kirchner, was on his first trip to this economically troubled South American country since 1995.
Dressed in a dark blue suit and tie, Castro drew shouts of “Ole! Ole! Ole!” and “Fidel! Fidel!” as he spoke for more than two and a half hours outdoors on a crisp winter night.
Castro began by paying homage to Argentina-born revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who served as one of his top advisers during the 1959 revolution.
“He was a wonderful human being, extremely intelligent and cultured, and who had an enormous sense of solidarity,” he said.
Castro then compared his country’s achievements in health care and education to levels attained by the United States in the same field. But his criticism of the U.S-led war in Iraq drew the loudest applause.
“We send our doctors, not bombs, to the farthest corners of the world to help save lives, not kill them,” he said to a roar of cheers.
“The people of Buenos Aires are sending a message to those in the world who want to ride roughshod over our cities and our countries in Latin America,” he added in a thinly veiled reference to the United States.
The speech was organized by a student group and originally planned to be held in an auditorium at the University of Buenos Aires Law School, but was moved outdoors after thousands swarmed the building to hear Castro speak.
Castro arrived in Buenos Aires on Saturday with more than a dozen Latin American leaders attending the inaugural ceremonies for Kirchner, a center-left former governor who took office as Argentina’s sixth president in 18 months. Kirchner has promised a more protectionist stance to help lift the country out of five years of grinding recession.
Earlier Monday, the Cuban leader met with Kirchner for almost an hour. Argentine Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa later said Castro had asked the new president to strengthen the countries’ ties by appointing a new ambassador to Cuba.
Former President Fernando De la Rua withdrew the Argentine ambassador in Havana in 2001 after Castro harshly criticized his government’s decision to condemn Cuba in an annual vote at the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
This year, Argentina reversed its decision by choosing to abstain in the April vote.