Cuba: Castro breaks silence to back thaw with US

A state'run food market in Havana displaying an image of Fidel Castro, who cautiously welcomed restoring US ties. Picture: AP

A state'run food market in Havana displaying an image of Fidel Castro, who cautiously welcomed restoring US ties. Picture: AP

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FORMER Cuban leader Fidel Castro ended his long silence over his country’s decision to restore diplomatic ties with the United States, writing that he backs the negotiations even though he distrusts politics in Washington.

The comments were the first by the 88-year-old revolutionary leader on the talks with the US since the historic 17 December declaration that the countries would move to restore ties broken more than a half century ago.

“I don’t trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this does not mean I reject a pacific solution to the conflicts,” he wrote in a letter to a student federation read at the University of Havana. It also appeared in Communist Party newspaper Granma.

“We will always defend co-operation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries,” he wrote.

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Two weeks ago, Castro sent a letter to soccer legend Diego Maradona to quash rumours of his death. At the time, it was the first reported word from Castro in nearly three months. The letter was read on Venezuela state television network Telesur.

On 17 December the Obama administration and the Cuban government announced a thawing of relations, including an exchange of prisoners in spying cases and a loosening of economic sanctions. Officials from both sides met last week in Havana to work through details including allowing US banks to open accounts in Cuba and other measures promoting trade and economic ties. Both sides hailed this first round of talks as productive, but negotiators sparred over issues like human rights and the discussions ended without any breakthrough.

Talks are expected to resume in Washington, although no date has been set.

Apparent obstacles to full and open relations have included a Cuban demand that the US stop funding dissidents who oppose the Cuban communist regime, and calls from the US side for Havana to hand over American fugitives from justice who are living in exile in Cuba.

The speculation about Castro’s health had been prompted in part by his failure to comment on the historic US-Cuban declaration in December. A serious illness forced him to step down from duties as president, handing over leadership to his younger brother Raul.

Fidel’s silence had also led to speculation over his opinion of his brother’s rapprochement with the US. But he said that Cuba’s president “has taken the pertinent steps in accordance with his prerogatives and the powers given to him by the National Assembly of the Communist Party of Cuba”.

Raul has demonstrated a less confrontational style of leadership than his older brother, who often led massive protests against US policies. The younger Castro has allowed more economic reforms to take place but resisted any challenges to the country’s single-party communist style of government.

The US broke relations with Cuba in 1961, as Castro and his revolutionaries nationalised private, often US-owned, industries and firms.

Despite scores of CIA assassination attempts against him and a failed US-backed invasion of Cuba, Castro stayed in power until 2006, when a still-undisclosed intestinal ailment forced him to step down.

Since then Castro rarely appears in public, instead opining on current events in occasional newspaper columns.

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