Cuba dismisses U.S. call for democracy

August 6, 2006 - 0:0
HAVANA (Reuters) -- Cuba quickly dismissed another U.S. call for Cuban democracy.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a message beamed to Cuba on Friday night, told the island's residents that "much is changing there" and now was the time to push for democracy.

"We will stand with you to secure your rights -- to speak as you choose, to think as you please, to worship as you wish, and to choose your leaders, freely and fairly, in democratic elections," she said in a broadcast on the U.S.-funded Radio Marti network.

But Cuba's Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, told reporters at a Havana event that Rice's message, which followed a similar statement by President George W. Bush on Thursday, would fall on deaf ears.

"Nobody in Cuba is going to listen to a message that comes from a functionary of a foreign government. That has no value for Cubans," he said in some of the first government comments since Castro's surgery.

"I think all these messages are pure rhetoric for Miami," he said.

Prieto also said the Cuban government was functioning well with Fidel Castro recovering and his 75-year-old brother at the helm, despite suggestions from the United States that things were in flux. Castro has led Cuba for 47 years, since he swept to power in a 1959 revolution.

"I don't feel any uncertainty. The people love Fidel a lot and that has been seen in these days," he said.

Cuba's minister of health, Jose Ramon Balaguer, told reporters during a visit to Guatemala that Castro was on the road to recovery. He said an overworked Castro had a "complicated operation from which he is recovering satisfactorily." In a radio interview, Balaguer said Castro "will be back with us soon."

United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan, during a trip to the Dominican Republic on Friday, said there were "indications" Castro was recovering and wished the Cuban president well.

Cuba's Roman Catholic Church also called on Cubans on Friday to pray for President Castro's recovery from illness and for divine guidance for those provisionally running the country.

"We ask all our communities to pray that God accompany President in his illness and illuminates those who have received provisional government duties," the bishops said in a statement.

Castro, 79, stunned his country by announcing on Monday that he had ceded power temporarily to his younger brother, Raul Castro, after undergoing surgery to stop intestinal bleeding.