By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ | Associated Press Writer
CARDENAS, Cuba (AP)—President Fidel Castro insisted Friday that his socialist system will survive him, as he celebrated the 10th birthday of Elian Gonzalez—the shipwrecked boy who was the center of a fierce international custody battle.
Castro characterized as “idiots’’ those who believe that socialist rule on the island will end with his death.
“This revolution does not depend on one individual, or two, or three,’’ Castro declared in a speech of more than two hours at a birthday celebration in the courtyard of Elian’s school in the child’s hometown of Cardenas, about 85 miles east of Havana.
Speaking about a meeting he said occurred earlier Friday in Washington between Cuban Americans and U.S. officials, Castro said “that group of idiots ... would die of bitterness, of frustration and even shock to see how this country has resisted 45 years of blockade.’’
Castro was referring to the U.S. embargo against the Caribbean country, a policy supported by his vociferous enemies in the Cuban-American community and imposed more than four decades ago to force his government to abandon its left-wing policies.
The 77-year-old leader, who will celebrate 45 years in power this New Year’s Day, also joked about his “longevity genes.’’ His father, Angel Castro, was in his early 80s when he died October 1956, two years before the triumph of the Jan. 1, 1959 revolution.
Castro’s death and its effect on Cuba’s future are a constant source of speculation at home and abroad.
The bearded revolutionary, who favors olive green uniforms, is the world’s longest ruling head of government and leader of only four remaining socialist countries in the world.
During his speech Friday night, Castro characterized the U.S. government as “monstrous.’’
But he said he didn’t put the American people in that same category. “No one can blame them for the system they live in,’’ Castro said.
It was precisely the American people Castro appealed to four years ago when Elian Gonzalez was thrust to the center of an international custody battle after he was found clinging to an inner tube in the waters off Florida’s coast.
During the birthday celebration, Castro helped Elian blow out the candles on a big white cake.
He also lambasted the Cuban Adjustment Act, a 1966 law that communist officials say encourage Cubans to take risky sea journeys _ as Elian’s mother did—because they can get legal U.S. residency after one year if they reach American shores.
Elian’s mother and most of the other passengers traveling illegally from Cuba to the United States in November 1999 died when their boat capsized.
The boy was placed with relatives in Miami who, backed by other Cuban exiles, fought to keep him in the United States.
Castro organized nearly daily rallies to demand that Elian be returned and reunited with his father.
Elian returned to Cuba on June 28, 2000, after a legal battle that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.