Castro jokes at US: “I won't be in office at the age of 100”

By Noble Johns

BAYAMO, Cuba (BNW) —
Just hoping he goes away won’t work. That has been the policy of the US in my lifetime about Castro. Now, Fidel Castro, Cuba's leader since 1959, joked on this week that he had no plans to be in power when he is 100 years old.

Castro, who will be 80 on August 13, made fun of his long-time ideological nemesis the United States in a speech in which he said more Cubans are reaching 100 thanks to the social services of his Communist government.

"But, our little neighbors to the north should not fear, I am not planning to be in office at that age," the left-wing firebrand said.

Castro spoke to 100,000 people at a rally in the eastern city of Bayamo, Cuba, on the anniversary of the assault he led on a military garrison in 1953 that sparked his revolution.

The Cuban leader has outlasted nine U.S. presidents and survived CIA assassination plots, invasion attempts and the collapse of his Soviet bloc benefactors despite the constant harassment of the US and he is still in power.

Castro's advancing age — his pace has slowed since a bad fall two years ago-- has led his enemies to sharpen their knives in preparation for the day he departs the scene.

The Bush administration announced earlier this month it was tightening sanctions on Cuba and adding $80 million to efforts to build opposition to Castro's one-party state on the island.

Washington hopes to prevent a succession headed by younger brother Raul Castro, Cuba's defense minister.

Castro said the United States should stop meddling and look after its own social problems, boasting that Cuba's infant mortality of 6.5 per thousand was lower than the U.S. rate. This statement is a play off on the high infant mortality rate in the Black community in this country.

Chavez defends Russia arms deals

The Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, has said his visit to Russia to sign a series of arms deals does not mean he is going to attack anyone.

Mr Chavez said his aim was to replace the ageing weaponry used by Venezuela's armed forces.

He is expected to complete deals worth around $1bn (£542m) to buy Russian fighter jets and helicopters on Thursday in Moscow.

The US has tried to persuade Russia not to supply weapons to Venezuela.

"I am not an aggressor and have come not for weapons with which to fight against all and everyone," Mr Chavez was quoted as saying by the Itar-Tass news agency during his visit to the Russian city of Izhevsk.

"It's simply that our army's weapons are already old and worn out and we want to exchange them for newer more reliable ones," he said.

In Izhevsk, Mr Chavez visited the factory which manufactures Kalashnikov assault (AK) rifles and was expected to meet its inventor, Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Russia plans to deliver 30 Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets and 30 helicopters to Venezuela.

Venezuela has already ordered 100,000 AK-103s and wants to set up factories to produce Kalashnikovs under licence.

'Lobbying tour'

The US has voiced concerns about this, having banned US manufacturers entering such deals with Caracas.

On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said "the armed purchases planned by Venezuela exceeded its defensive needs and are not helpful in terms of regional stability."

Mr Chavez is visiting several countries, lobbying for a Venezuelan seat on the UN Security Council.

On Monday he signed a series of co-operation agreements in Belarus.

After Russia, he will visit Qatar, Iran, Vietnam and Mali.

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