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Castro aims to alter U.S. policy

Leader doesn’t expect quick success with Bush or Gore

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MANZANILLO, Cuba — After the return of Elian Gonzalez, President Fidel Castro vowed in a statement Saturday to pursue efforts for changing U.S. policy toward Cuba but suggested he did not expect immediate success with either of the candidates to succeed Bill Clinton.

"Neither of them inspires any confidence whatsoever," Castro said in a written message that was read at the first government-organized rally since Elian returned home on Wednesday. "Whoever is the next president of the United States should know that here is Cuba with its ideas, its example and the rebelliousness of its people; that all aggression and all attempts to asphyxiate us or put us on our knees will be defeated."

A crowd estimated by officials at 300,000 packed the plaza of this town on the southern shore in the eastern part of the island. A succession of speakers criticized the U.S. trade embargo, which they said encourages immigration, and the Cuban Adjustment Act, which grants asylum to Cubans who reach U.S. soil.

The audience was reminded that they should channel the same energy they used in the last seven months to support Elian's return into a renewed fight against U.S. policies.

"Now begins the second stage that will also be triumphant," said Raul Castro, Fidel Castro's brother and minister of the armed forces, in a rare 15-minute news conference after the rally.

He also insisted that there would be no change in Cuba's political system despite the speculation about what might happen when the 72-year-old Cuban president dies.

Most of the people who attended the rally here bore tiny pictures of Elian in the arms of his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. Behind the crowd, a billboard of the two featured a quote from Jose Marti, the poet and nationalist leader from the 19th century.

"I am son of my son," read the quote. "In him I am reborn."

And through the Gonzalez family, officials apparently hoped to ensure the future of their revolution, which in recent years had seen many people chafe under hard-line policies and a sense of an uncertain future.

Cuban government officials have insisted that they will not use Elian in any public appearances. But they have invoked the family often.

Among the crowd, people said they agreed with the goals of the new campaign, often repeating the same phrases about "doing away with the unjust laws."