By EDITH M. LEDERER | Associated Press Writer
Cuba’s foreign minister said Thursday he expects Fidel Castro to be fully back at the helm by early December and urged U.S. intelligence chiefs to tear up their post-Castro scenario because his illness demonstrated Cubans’ strong support for their government.
Felipe Perez Roque said Castro’s illness, which forced him to step aside as president on July 31, turned out to be a dress rehearsal for the time when the leader of Cuba’s revolution dies. There were no street protests and the country remained “at ease, but vigilant and watchful,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Asked whether he expected Fidel to be back in power for the postponed celebration of his 80th birthday on Dec. 2, Perez Roque said Fidel’s health is improving, “and I have no questions in my mind that we will be able to celebrate his birthday in December as he deserves.”
Did he expect Fidel to be back fully or on a lighter work schedule? “I think he will come back fully,” Perez Roque said.
“I have no doubts that his recovery is coming along quite well, and that Fidel will be able to fully devote his time to his duties without any impediments whatsoever,” he said.
But he said he expects Fidel’s medical team to try “and put things in such a way that there will be no excesses that will harm his health.”
Perez Roque said the Pentagon and CIA strategy-makers believed that when Fidel was not leading the government “the Cuban revolution would come crumbling down and our people would take to the streets to ask for the invasion of the Marines and to have a U.S. ruler for Cuba,” and to ask for “the Mafia-related elite in Miami to come back.”
“What has happened in Cuba over the last couple of weeks .... has left the Pentagon and the CIA strategy-makers without any plans, without any strategy, and without a single idea that is worth mentioning,” he said.
“So I can only imagine that those strategy-makers of President Bush must be reassessing their choices — which does not make them less dangerous and reckless than they are today,” Perez Roque said.
Asked to comment on the foreign minister’s claims, Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said: “Our only plan and hope is that the people of Cuba get to experience freedom and democracy.”
Perez Roque said the United States has never been more isolated in Latin America while Cuba is no longer alone “as a beacon of dignity and solidarity,” pointing to its close alliances with Venezuela and Bolivia.
He also touted the success of the recent summit of the Nonaligned Movement in Havana, where 117 countries pledged to work together to defend international law, oppose pre-emptive military action, and counter U.S. efforts “to impose its designs on the rest” of the world.
Castro’s 80th birthday on Aug. 13 came two weeks after he temporarily ceded his powers to his younger brother, Raul, No. 2 in the government. So the government has decided to celebrate it on Dec. 2, the 50th anniversary of the landing of a yacht on Cuba’s shores with a young Fidel which Perez Roque said “ushered in the last stage of our struggles for Cuba’s independence and democracy.”
Perez Roque accused enemies of Fidel and Raul of putting forward the “shameful and narrow-minded idea” that Raul is now in charge because Fidel is his brother.
“Raul has been second after Fidel. His responsibilities have not stemmed from his family link with Fidel. They have stemmed from his life devoted to the revolution, from his personal merits, from ability first as a guerrilla chief, and later on as a party cadre and official from the state and from the government,” Perez Roque said.
“When Fidel goes back to fully resume his duties, Raul will continue to be the second man in charge in leading the state, the government and the party,” he said.
Perez Roque said Cuba stands ready to establish relations with the United States — as Castro recently offered — in the framework of respect for the country’s sovereignty.
“We stand ready to move forward, but we’re not begging to do so as a favor, and we can spend another 1,000 years the same way we are right now,” he said. “We have proved that you can live perfectly well without depending on the United States.
“Besides that, we know that during the Bush administration, there will be no step by the administration in favor of relations, but that doesn’t hurt us that much. We’re patient, and we know that time is on our side,” he said.