Castros have warm words for Obama

Campaign News | Thursday, 22 January 2009

From AFP

Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro and his brother, President Raul Castro, had warm words for newly sworn-in US President Barack Obama on Wednesday, in sharp contrast with decades of anti-US rhetoric.

Visiting Argentine President Cristina Kirchner conveyed Fidel Castro's words after she met with the convalescing 82 year-old.

Fidel Castro "told me that he followed with much interest President Barack Obama's assumption of power, and that he spent the whole day (Tuesday) watching the event on television," Kirchner said.

"He told me that (Obama) not only had a very good background as a political leader, but also that he was a man he saw as being absolutely sincere."

Castro, according to Kirchner, believed that Obama "sincerely believed the ideas" he talked about during the inauguration. "Hopefully he can carry them out," Castro told Kirchner.

"He had very warm words for President Obama," she said.

Kirchner spoke to reporters in Havana at the end of her trip to the communist-run island. She said Castro "seemed very healthy," and that the two leaders "chatted" about international issues for just over an hour.

No pictures of the meeting were immediately released.

Raul Castro earlier had kind words for the first African-American US president. "He seems to be a good man; I wish him luck," Raul Castro said, though he cautioned that Obama might be raising "hopes too high."

Raul Castro has said he was willing to talk with Obama, as long as there are no intermediaries and as equal parties to the dialogue.

If they met it would be the first meeting of leaders from the neighboring nations and Cold War-era foes in five decades.

Fidel Castro is the father of Cuba's revolution and the island nation's leader until officially ceding power to the younger Raul in February 2008.

Fidel underwent major intestinal surgery in July 2006. Though largely unseen since then, he remained influential by writing editorials in official state media until recently.

His most recent photograph was released on November 18, while his most recent video appeared seven months ago.

Raul Castro acknowledged rumors swirling around his older brother's health -- speculation has recently been front-page news in Miami, home to the bulk of the Cuban-American community -- but denied that Fidel was gravely ill.

Fidel "is exercising, thinking a lot, writing a lot, and advising and helping me," Raul Castro said at the Havana airport as he bid farewell to Kirchner.

"Do you believe that if he were gravely ill I would be this cheerful?" Castro said.

"Soon I will be traveling to Europe -- do you think that I could leave here if Fidel were seriously ill?"

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