Castro Chides Bush, Brazil in Column
Wednesday, April 4, 2007; 7:23 PM
HAVANA -- Ailing leader Fidel Castro returned to the public debate _ if not view _ for the second time in less than a week Wednesday with a column in the Communist Party newspaper denouncing U.S. promotion of using food crops for biofuels.
Castro chided the Bush administration for its support of ethanol production for automobiles, a move that the 80-year-old leader said would leave the world's poor hungry.
It was his second article on the issue in less than a week, indicating he is increasingly anxious to have his voice heard on international matters, eight months after stepping down as Cuba's president because of illness.
Castro also gently chided leftist ally Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for his country's ambitious plans for ethanol production and his cooperation with Bush in promoting it.
"It is not my intention to harm Brazil, nor get mixed up in affairs related to the internal politics of that great country," Castro wrote in the article, titled "Reflections of the Commander in Chief: The Internationalization of Genocide."
But, he said, key questions remained unanswered following weekend talks between Silva and Bush.
"From where and who will they supply the more than 500 million tons of corn and other cereals that the United States, Europe and the rich countries are going to need to produce the quantity of gallons of ethanol that the big companies of the United States and other countries demand in return for their many investments?" he asked in the column published in the daily Granma.
The issue has created a genteel tension in Cuban relations with the government of Silva, a former labor union organizer who has a long history of friendly ties with Cuba's communist leaders.
Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, last week responded to Castro's earlier criticism of biofuels by expressing personal respect but saying, "he has some ideas that are outdated."
Silva's top aide on international affairs, Marco Aurelio Garcia, said Wednesday the Brazilian president had no intention of transforming the country's ethanol plans into an ideological debate. Silva remains "obsessed" with the idea of biofuels and his belief that income from their production can benefit Brazil's poor, Garcia said.
Cuba itself has experimented with using sugar cane for ethanol production.
But now that the United States has embraced the idea, Castro and his Venezuelan ally Hugo Chavez have expressed concern that rich countries will buy up the food crops of poor nations to meet their energy needs, threatening millions with starvation.
Brazil is a major ethanol producer, while Venezuela has the hemisphere's largest oil reserves. On Wednesday, Brazil and Ecuador signed agreements for the two countries to jointly produce biofuels and explore for oil in Ecuador.
The issue could arise again when Silva and Chavez meet for an energy summit on Venezuela's Margarita Island April 16-17. Other South American leaders have been invited, but have not yet confirmed.
Meanwhile, Castro _ who senior officials say is on the mend _ seems ever more likely to chime in from the sidelines.
On July 31, he temporarily ceded his functions to his brother Raul, the 75-year-old defense minister, after announcing he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery.
Castro's condition and exact ailment remain a state secret, but he is widely believed to suffer from diverticular disease, a weakening of the walls of the colon that can cause sustained bleeding.
Cuban officials have given increasingly optimistic reports about his health, and there is a growing expectation on the island that he could soon make his first public appearance since falling ill.
(SUBS graf 13 to correct energy summit will be held on Margarita Island sted Caracas; ADDS Ecuador, Brazil to jointly produce biofuels, explore for oil)