Fidel calls in to Chavez TV show

Campaign News | Sunday, 14 October 2007

By Nelson Acosta, Reuters

Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro looked frail in a video shown on Sunday, but his voice was strong when he taunted the United States later in a live telephone call to his Venezuelan ally President Hugo Chavez broadcast from Cuba.

It was the first time Cubans have heard Castro speak live since he handed over power in July 2006 to his brother after intestinal surgery. He has not appeared in public since.

"The world is full of Vietnams today facing up to a tyrannical power being exercised over the world," Castro said on Chavez's weekly television and radio program broadcast from the tomb of revolutionary icon Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Guevara, who was captured and executed in Bolivia 40 years ago last week, coined the slogan "one, two, three, many Vietnams" to counter "U.S. imperialism."

"We are the axis of evil," Castro joked, using the label U.S. President George W. Bush slapped on North Korea, Iran and prewar Iraq and some officials in Washington have used to also refer to the leftist alliance Chavez has built to oppose U.S. policies in Latin America.

Castro, 81, appeared gaunt in a 17-minute video taped during a four-hour meeting with Chavez on Saturday and shown before his phone call on the Chavez show, which was broadcast live on Cuba's state-run television and radio.

Castro, who has undergone at least three major operations over 14 months for undisclosed intestinal problems, wore a red, white and blue track suit top over his pajamas and sat on a cushion in an armchair.

His long absence has fueled rumors about his imminent death and uncertainty over the future of the Western Hemisphere's only communist-run state.


In his one-hour telephone exchange with Chavez, Castro made no mention of his health or his political future. "I think I have to take some pill, but I will continue watching," Castro said before hanging up.

Castro has "recovered," Chavez said, and he ate yogurt during their meeting on Saturday. "He is in good spirits and has a very good color," Chavez said.

The five-hour broadcast was a tribute to Guevara, whose remains were placed a decade ago in a mausoleum in the Cuban city of Santa Clara under a statue of the guerrilla carrying a rifle. Guevara's widow and four children were present at the show.

Castro called Guevara a "sower of ideas" and spoke of his plan to spread revolution in Latin America, where left-wing leaders such as Chavez have emerged in the last decade, though by the ballot box and not armed insurgencies.

"The circumstances are more propitious than ever for the flowering of those ideas of revolution that Che spoke of," Castro said.

Chavez considers Castro his political mentor and has succeeded the Cuban leader as the main opponent of the United States in Latin America. He called Castro "our father."

Cubans said Castro looked better, but some said he should not return to hands-on governing. "The comandante may have recovered, but he will live longer if stuck to an advisory role as our guide," said Ariel Valdes, a computer technician.

Cuban exiles in Miami, a bastion of anti-Castro sentiment, said the Castro's video and telephone call did not point to a political comeback.

"Whether they show him on video, on the radio on the phone, it's more of the same. He's a political corpse," said Ninoska Perez of the exile group Cuban Liberty Council.

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