(photo credit: AP)
Fidel Castro accused US President George W. Bush of plotting a new conquest of Cuba, in an essay published a day before the White House was to announce new plans to draw Cuba away from communism.
In Tuesday's brief essay titled "Bush, Hunger and Death," Castro predicted that Bush "will adopt new measures to accelerate the 'transition period' in our country, equivalent to a new conquest of Cuba by force."
The White House on Tuesday brushed off Castro's comments that Bush wanted to attack the island.
"Dictators say a lot of things, and most of them can be discounted, including that," said White House press secretary Dana Perino.
However, Perino confirmed that Bush on Wednesday would urge other nations to join together in promoting democracy in Cuba. In a speech at the State Department, his first stand-alone address on Cuba in four years, Bush will look to the day when Castro is gone. He will describe a nation in which Cuban people choose a representative government and enjoy basic freedoms, with support from a broad international coalition.
Bush is expected to promote in his speech peaceful, pro-democracy movements in Cuba and to urge other countries to get behind them. Bush will propose at least three initiatives: the creation of an international "freedom fund" to help Cuba's potential rebuilding of its country one day; a US licensing of private groups to provide Internet access to Cuban students; and an invitation to Cuban youth to join a scholarship program.
In a direct appeal to ordinary citizens in Cuba, he will tell them they have the power to change their country, but the White House says that is not meant to be a call for armed rebellion.
"We're going to have an opportunity here, when Castro is no longer leading Cuba, that the people there should be able to have a chance at freedom and democracy," Perino says.
Cuban officials have long denounced US efforts to produce a "transition" from Castro's government to a Western-style representative democracy.
Ailing and 81, Castro has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery and ceding power to a provisional government headed by his younger brother Raul in July 2006. While he has looked upbeat and lucid in official videos, he also seems too frail to resume power.
Life on the island has changed little under Raul Castro, the 76-year-old defense minister who for decades has been his elder brother's hand-picked successor.
Cuba staged municipal elections on Sunday, the first step in a process that will determine if Fidel Castro is re-elected or replaced next year as Cuban leader.
Tuesday's essay by Fidel Castro, the latest of scores published by state media, accused Bush of threatening the world with nuclear war and famine.
"The danger of a massive world famine is aggravated by Mr. Bush's recent initiative to transform foods into fuel," Castro wrote in Cuban news media, referring to US support for using corn and other food crops to produce gasoline substitutes.
He also alleged that Bush "threatens humanity with World War III, this time using atomic weapons."