September 17, 2008 / 4:50 PM / 9 years ago

Fidel Castro says dignity stops Cuba taking U.S. aid

<p>Cuba's President Fidel Castro gestures during a tour of Paris in this March 15, 1995 file photo.Charles Platiau/Files</p>

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba, devastated in recent weeks by two powerful hurricanes, has too much dignity to accept aid from the United States, former leader Fidel Castro said in a column published on Wednesday.

He said the United States had done billions of dollars in damage to Cuba with its 46-year-old trade embargo against the island and does not understand "that the dignity of a people has no price."

Cuba suffered $5 billion in damages from hurricanes Ike and Gustav, but the government has rejected offers of up to $5 million in U.S. aid.

"If instead of five million they were one billion, the answer would be the same," wrote Castro, who has been on the sidelines since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006 and was formally replaced as president by brother Raul Castro in February.

"The damage in thousands of lives, suffering and more than $200 billion the blockade (embargo) has cost, and the Yankee aggressions, can't be paid with anything," he said.

Instead of accepting aid, Cuba has asked the United States to at least temporarily lift the embargo so it can buy what it needs, but the Bush administration has refused.

The United States first offered $100,000 to Cuba with the possibility of more if Cuba allowed a U.S. team to do its own damage assessment. The offer was eventually raised to $5 million, without the request to do an assessment.

Other countries such as Russia, Spain, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Honduras and Colombia have been sending in goods, and Cuba has accepted an offer of $3.5 million in aid from the United Nations.

"The wave of solidarity with Cuba, that encompasses countries big and small, with resources and without, would disappear the day that Cuba quit being dignified," Castro said.

The 82-year-old Castro, not seen in public since falling ill, now writes occasional columns published in Cuba's state-run press.

Reporting by Jeff Franks; editing by Michael Christie and Ross Colvin

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