Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Castro says Bush plotting to kill him

Cuban President Fidel Castro on Friday accused President Bush and Cuban-Americans in Miami of plotting to assassinate him _ a charge he has made before but never so explicitly.

"We know that Mr. Bush has committed himself to the mafia . . . to assassinate me," Castro was quoted as saying in a speech in Havana, using his favorite epithet for hard-line Cuban exiles. "I said it once before and today I'll say it clearer: I accuse him!"

His allegation was widely covered by foreign correspondents in Havana, although he has made similar allegations on at least four other occasions, including in two speeches in which he claimed the plot was hatched during a Texas meeting between Bush and exiles before the 2000 election.

Several Cuban-Americans said they met with Bush in Austin that year but denied there has been discussion of assassinating Castro or of military action to remove him from power.

"Castro needs to have a constant war against shadows," said Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, who attended the Austin meeting. He said the gathering, which included several exile leaders, was short and focused on Bush's stance on U.S. policy toward Cuba.

"Castro's accusation has no basis or foundation of truth," Garcia said.

Top U.S. officials also dismissed the allegations by the 77-year-old Castro.

"The world would be better off without Fidel Castro, a lot better off, but that doesn't mean anybody's trying to kill him," said Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. "It's a ridiculous assertion."

"There's no need to kill Castro. He's half-dead already," said Luis Zuniga, a member of the anti-Castro Cuban Liberty Council in Miami.

Castro's remarks came at the end of a 5{-hour speech before about 1,000 Latin American activists opposed to the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. In his speech, which began Thursday night and continued into the wee hours, Castro offered few details but insisted a Bush-endorsed plan was in the works to forcibly remove him from power.

"I am not asking to survive a war. I've already done my part and I still have to do what I have to do. With weapons in hand, I don't care how I die, but I'm confident that if they invade us, I will go down fighting," he was quoted as saying by the news agency Agence France-Press.

Castro also has increasingly referred to his mortality in recent years, promising to remain in power until his last breath.

Several U.S. experts on Cuba said that while the accusation was serious, it was in line with sharp and hostile language used by Castro against Bush since he became president.

"I don't see it as raising the level of rhetoric," said William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert at the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington.

Castro, who has ruled Cuba since 1959, claims to have survived more than 600 assassination attempts, including many well-documented cases in which the CIA financed or promoted attempts on his life in the 1960s.

The assassination of foreign leaders as U.S. policy was banned in 1976 by an executive order signed by President Gerald Ford and reinforced by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Since U.S. troops invaded Iraq, Castro has repeatedly warned that Cuba is next _ a claim the Bush administration has just as repeatedly denied.

In his speech Thursday, Castro also criticized President Bush's decision in October to create a Cabinet-level program _ "Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba," headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Powell later suggested the goal of the commission was not to force Castro out of power but to prepare a U.S. strategy for Cuba once Castro is no longer in power. Recommendations from the commission are expected in May.

The Bush administration has progressively hardened its policies toward Cuba. Cuban authorities charge the strategy is aimed at wooing voters in Florida, home to many Cuban exiles.

For more than four decades, the two countries have been without diplomatic ties and a U.S. trade embargo makes most trade between the nations impossible, except for sales of farm products.

Dissident who returned

to Cuba wants to stay

HAVANA _ A Cuban dissident who recently returned to Cuba after years in exile, asked immigration authorities on Friday to grant him permission to stay. Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo fought alongside Fidel Castro in the revolution. He later broke with the regime and served 22 years in prison. Since the 1980s, he has lived in exile, most recently in Miami.

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.