Castro offers rosy economic outlook, credits resilience in face of embargo
HAVANA – President Fidel Castro said on Monday that Cuba’s economy grew at a rate of more than 12.5 percent in the past month, crediting the country’s resilience in the face of the U.S. government’s long-standing trade embargo.”Thank you, Yankee empire, because you’ve made us grow, you’ve made us reach new heights,” he said in a May Day speech of more than three hours. Those gathered in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution chanted “Fidel!” in response, and waved small paper Cuban flags.Castro said the economy grew 11.8 percent in the first quarter of this year as compared to the same period in 2005. The current rate of growth has since surged to more than 12.5 percent, he said.Cuba uses its own method to calculating economic growth that takes into account the country’s vast social safety net and subsidized services.That makes Cuba’s growth figures difficult to compare with those of other countries, prompting the United Nation’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean to leave the island’s numbers out of its report last year.Castro chastised the Bush administration for creating a transition plan for a post-Castro Cuba and accused the administration of threatening his country and its ally Venezuela with U.S. military exercises under way in the Caribbean. U.S. officials say the exercises have nothing to do with Cuba or Venezuela.”I am curious to see what comes of their famous transition period, with war boats, aircraft carriers and submarines and … assassination plans,” he said.Castro said that a Cuban-born California man accused of selling guns illegally from his home told the Los Angeles Times in a jailhouse interview last week that the weapons were supposed to be used in an attempt to oust the Cuban president in concert with the U.S. naval exercises.A Pentagon spokesman and other military officials have denied the claims by 61-year-old Robert Ferro, who had stashed 1,571 firearms and some hand grenades in hidden rooms and compartments at his home in Upland, Calif.Ferro “had as many arms as the mercenaries brought with them to Giron,” Castro said, referring to the disastrous invasion of Cuba 45 years ago by a U.S.-trained exile army at the Bay of Pigs.Ferro has claimed to be a member of Alpha 66, a violent anti-Castro group. A spokesman at the group’s Miami headquarters has denied that Ferro was a member.Castro also accused the American government of protecting Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban-born militant he characterizes as the Western Hemisphere’s worst terrorist.Posada Carriles is being held in the United States on immigration charges. Cuba and Venezuela accuse him of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. Posada Carriles has denied involvement in that crime.
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