Fidel Castro says doesn't doubt Obama honesty

15:35, 22 January 2009
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The comments by the former...

Fidel Castro watched the U.S. inauguration on television and says he doesn`t doubt Barack Obama`s honesty, breaking a monthlong silence with an essay published Thursday in Cuba`s state-run press, according to AP.

The comments by the former Cuban president came followed a meeting Wednesday with visiting Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who told reporters that "Fidel believes in Obama."

The meeting with Fernandez dispelled persistent rumors that the 82-year-old Castro had suffered a stroke or lapsed into a coma in recent days.

"I was with Fidel about an hour or more," she told reporters at the airport as she left. "We were chatting, conversing. He looked good." Castro himself wrote that the meeting lasted 40 minutes and he said the two exchanged thoughts about the new U.S. president.

"I personally did not have the slightest doubt about the honesty of Obama, the 11th president since Jan. 1, 1959, when he expresses his ideas," Castro said he told Fernandez, referring to the day his band of bearded rebels toppled a dictator and took power in Cuba.

"But despite noble intentions, there are still many questions to answer," Castro added, singling out the question of whether a capitalist system can protect the environment.

Castro`s essay was his first such writing since Dec. 15 — a break that fed speculation his health had taken a turn for the worse.

Fernandez said Castro wore the track suit that has become his trademark since he fell ill in July 2006 and vanished from public view.

"He told me he had followed the inauguration of Barack Obama very closely, that he had watched the inauguration on television all day," Fernandez said.

Obama has said he is not yet ready to fully end the U.S. embargo on Cuba, but says he will ease limits on Cuban-Americans` visits to the island and on how much money they can send home to relatives. He has also offered to negotiate personally with Raul Castro, though he has said he won`t push Congress to lift the U.S. trade embargo, at least not right away.

Raul Castro, who took over the presidency from his brother 11 months ago, appeared earlier with Fernandez and scoffed at the rumors about his brother`s health.

"Do you think if he were really gravely ill that I`d be smiling here?" Raul Castro said. "Soon I`m going to take a trip to Europe. You guys think I could leave here if Fidel were really in grave condition?"

Castro, 77, said his older brother spends his days "thinking a lot, reading a lot, advising me,helping me."

Fidel Castro hadn`t held a confirmed meeting with a foreign leader since Nov. 28. The presidents of Panama and Ecuador visited this month but left without saying they had seen the elder Castro.

"Now you know that Fidel is fine, and not like the rumors around here," Raul Castro said.

Obama`s predecessor, George W. Bush, tightened sanctions on the communist-governed country.

The comments by the Castro brothers contrast with those of their ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose government took exception to Obama`s characterization of Chavez as "a destructive force in the region." Obama made the comments in an interview with the Univision television network.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said he hoped Obama would "rectify" the comments, which he said showed his "total ignorance" about Latin America.

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