Castro Crticizes Obama
HAVANA - Fidel Castro criticized Sen. Barack Obama on Monday, writing that the Democratic presidential hopeful's plan to maintain Washington's trade embargo against Cuba will cause hunger and suffering on the island.
The ailing 81-year-old former president wrote that Obama was "the most-advanced candidate in the presidential race," but noted that he has not dared to call for altering U.S. policy toward Cuba.
"Obama's speech can be translated as a formula for hunger for the country," Castro wrote in a column published by government-run newspapers, referring to remarks Obama made before the influential Cuban American National Foundation in Miami last week.
Obama said he would maintain nearly 50-year-old trade sanctions against Cuba as leverage to push for democratic change on the island. But he also vowed to ease restrictions on Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba and sending money to relatives.
He repeated his willingness to meet with Raul Castro, who in February succeeded his elder brother Fidel to become the nation's first new leader in 49 years.
Castro said Obama's proposals for letting well-off Cuban Americans help poorer relatives on the island amounted to "propaganda for consumerism and a way of life that is unsustainable."
He complained that Obama's description of Cuba as "undemocratic" and "lacking in respect for liberty and human rights" was the same argument previous U.S. administrations "have used to justify their crimes against our homeland."
Castro has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency surgery in July 2006, but he often publishes columns in state newspapers.
Obama's calls for direct talks with Cuban leaders differ sharply from a more hardline policy favored by current President George W. Bush and Republican presidential candidate John McCain, whom Castro has also criticized.
Castro's column comes three days after a prominent dissident group wrote an open letter to Obama suggesting that his idea of talking directly with Cuban leaders could help win freedom for prisoners.