Ailing Fidel Castro says he's still in the loop

HAVANA (Reuters) - An ailing Fidel Castro took partial credit on Wednesday for firing Cuba’s long-serving education minister this week, indicating that he would remain influential behind the scenes as long as he is able.

People walk past a sign reading retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro's name on a street in Gibara April 18, 2008. REUTERS/Claudia Daut

Castro, who was succeeded by his younger brother Raul Castro as president this year after almost half a century at the helm, blasted former minister Luis Ignacio Gomez for being “burnt out” and “losing revolutionary consciousness.”

In a newspaper column, Castro laid into Gomez for traveling abroad too much and taking personal credit for advances in Cuba’s education system.

In the first cabinet change under Cuba’s new president, Gomez was summarily replaced on Tuesday after more than 18 years on the job.

Gomez was viewed as one of Fidel Castro’s staunchest supporters who for the last decade had faithfully carried out educational reforms proposed by Castro and questioned by many teachers and parents.

Many Cubans have criticized the decline of Cuba’s vast free education system during grass roots discussions fostered by Raul Castro on the socialist state’s ills.

“In this special and important case, in addition to my personal views, I was consulted and completely informed,” Fidel Castro wrote in an article published by the ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma and other state-run media.

The 81-year-old revolutionary leader has not appeared in public since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006 from which he never fully recovered. His whereabouts and medical condition remain state secrets.

For a year now he has written opinion columns on foreign and domestic affairs that appear in newspapers and are repeatedly read on state-run radio and television.

Lest anyone doubt his involvement in the cabinet change, Castro on Wednesday detailed the internal selection process that led to the appointment of Ana Elsa Velazquez as the new education minister.

He also reiterated his role in picking new members of Raul Castro’s government which was formally installed on February 24.

Some questions have arisen inside and outside Cuba over which of the Castro brothers is in charge and if they have significant policy differences since Raul Castro provisionally took over running the country after his brother’s surgery.

The brothers insist they are working closely together, as they have done for more than half a century since they launched an armed uprising against a U.S.-backed dictator.

Fidel Castro’s latest column was likely to add to the confusion. In it he warned against making “shameful concessions to imperialist ideology” even as his brother lifts restrictions to allow greater access to consumer goods and services, and reforms the state-dominated agricultural sector.

“I’ll express my modest opinion as long as I am able and desire to do so,” the elder Castro wrote.

Editing by Alan Elsner, Anthony Boadle and Michael Christie