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Castro blasts Bush, GOP stand on Cuba

Leader alarmed over U.S. plan for missile system

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PINAR DEL RIO, Cuba — Cuban President Fidel Castro expressed alarm Saturday over George W. Bush's pledge to deploy a missile defense system, but told a massive crowd that both the Texas governor and Vice President Al Gore are "boring and insipid" presidential candidates.

Castro told about 200,000 people massed for a speech in this western tobacco-growing province that if Bush reaches the White House, he will be the 10th American president to try to change Cuba's political system — and will fail.

"Cuba, yes! Yankees, no!" the crowd chanted in the provincial capital of Pinar del Rio, about 90 miles west of Havana.

More than 40 years after Castro launched a revolution to topple a dictatorship and change the lives of Cubans, getting the United States to ease off this communist island has become his new mission.

On Saturday, the Cuban leader focused mostly on Bush, who accepted the Republican presidential nomination Thursday, and on the GOP.

Castro, who turns 74 later this month, blasted a stance the Republican Party adopted during its national convention in Philadelphia last week, saying it catered to the "terrorist and annexationist mafia of Miami" — a reference to Cuban-American exiles.

Castro also said Bush's support for a missile defense system could take the world on a "new, dangerous and extremely costly arms buildup." Americans who are unaware of the possible risks involved will simply think that Bush is "a strong, forward-looking and tough man who the United States needs in the face of all dangers imagined or real," he said.

Russia and American allies oppose creating the new system, saying it could launch a new nuclear arms race. Gore supports building a limited missile defense system.

The Republican platform's plank on Cuba sets tough conditions at a time when the Clinton administration and some lawmakers are trying to ease sanctions. The platform says no trade or travel restrictions should be eased until Castro releases all political prisoners.

It also has new language calling for "active American support for Cuban dissidents" and says sanctions will be lifted when Castro also legalizes opposition political parties and commits to democratic elections.

The U.S. government has been backing off on some sanctions, and a measure has passed the House easing 38-year-old restrictions on exporting food and medicine to the country.

Proponents of the embargo worry that if Gore wins the presidency in November, sanctions would be further eroded.

Even so, Castro did not spare Gore in his comments.

"Perhaps never in times so complex and chaotic ... has there been a competition between two candidates more boring and insipid," he said.

Castro spoke during the last of this year's national events to commemorate the 1953 beginning of his revolutionary fight.

The attack that Castro led on the barracks in the eastern city of Santiago 47 years ago was against the dictatorship of then-President Fulgencio Batista. Although the attackers were either killed or jailed, the movement regained strength and triumphed in 1959 after Batista fled the country.