May 23, 2008 / 2:56 PM / 10 years ago

Fidel Castro attacks McCain and Bush in column

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban leader Fidel Castro blasted Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Friday for his criticism of the Cuban government this week, saying McCain had shown why he finished near the bottom of his class at West Point.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro poses in this photo taken by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva during their meeting in Havana January 15, 2008. REUTERS/Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva/CubaVision TV/Handout

In his latest newspaper column, Castro also attacked President George W. Bush for his speech on Wednesday announcing that U.S. citizens would be allowed to send cell phones to Cuba.

“A deluge of speeches and lies they directed at Cuba,” Castro said in a column published in Communist Party newspaper Granma. “How far they are from knowing Cuba and its people.”

McCain, speaking in Miami on Tuesday, vowed to maintain the United States’ 46-year-long trade embargo against the island until, among other things, the Cuban government frees political prisoners and holds internationally monitored, multi-party elections.

“McCain, in his book ‘Faith of My Fathers,’ admitted that he was among the last five students in his course in West Point,” Castro wrote. “He’s showing it.”

Castro provisionally stepped aside in July 2006 following intestinal surgery but still writes periodic columns. In February, he resigned the presidency, opening the way for the National Assembly to elect his younger brother Raul to replace him.

Despite the embargo, Bush said Americans would be allowed to send cell phones to their relatives in Cuba, in what appeared to be a response to recent reforms initiated by Raul Castro.

Bush called the reforms a “cruel joke” and accused Cuba of mistreating political opponents and oppressing the Cuban people.

“He doesn’t speak of the circle of hunger and blockade (embargo) that last decades,” Castro said, describing the comments of McCain and Bush as “gross lies.”

Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Bill Trott

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