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Fearing U.S. Attack, Cuba Readies Troops

VANESSA ARRINGTON / AP | August 5 2006

HAVANA -- Former revolutionaries promised to keep fighting for Cuba on Saturday as the island beefed up security, saying it fears a U.S. attack during Fidel Castro's health crisis. The government, under the control of Castro's brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, has mobilized citizen defense militias and asked military reservists to check in daily.

The White House has insisted no such threat exists, with press secretary Tony Snow dismissing the suggestion that the United States would attack the island as "absurd."

The Communist Party daily newspaper Granma issued a statement by the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution on its front page.

"We will continue working with the same revolutionary fervor that you taught us," the veterans' group assured Castro. It also expressed confidence that Castro would be back on his feet soon.

Cubans interviewed on state-run media also said Friday they would fight to the death against any invaders from the north, while the Communist Party daily Granma said, "We Cubans are prepared for the defense" of the island.

Neither of the Castros has been seen since Monday's announcement that Fidel, 79, had undergone surgery and was temporarily ceding power to Raul, 75. No new details were provided on Castro's condition following the surgery for intestinal bleeding.

The Bush administration rejected the idea that it would take advantage of Castro's illness to attack the island.

"The U.S. has absolutely no designs on invading Cuba," Snow said in Crawford, Texas, where President Bush was vacationing at his ranch. "Cubans are going to have to chart their destiny. It's the one thing that they've been deprived during the dictatorship of Fidel Castro."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also made a statement Friday, imploring Cubans not to flee to Florida. Her message was being transmitted over U.S. government radio and television stations that are beamed to the island but have limited audiences because of Cuban jamming operations. The message was also picked up on CNN and other major media, where some Cubans were more likely to see it.

Snow said everyone at the White House was "very interested" in Castro's condition as well as his brother's whereabouts. "It tells you something about a government that seems to be in hiding at a point like this," he said.

Cuban Cabinet ministers said Castro was doing well and urged patience.

In Guatemala, Cuban Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer told Radio Sonora that Castro "underwent surgery from which he is recovering satisfactorily." Balaguer is a longtime Communist Party leader and physician named by Castro to watch over his pet health projects in his absence.

In Havana, Culture Minister Abel Prieto wouldn't provide any details about Castro's health but said things were running smoothly in the country.

"This is a society that is functioning, that is working normally," he said. "People are worried, and wanting to know more about the health of Fidel, but at the same time, they are conducting themselves appropriately."

He said everyone should wait for Castro himself to provide more information about his condition. As for the younger brother, he said, "Raul will appear in due time ... people know who Raul is."

Some Cuban exiles, seizing on the unprecedented transfer of power, called for the U.S. government to do more to encourage a democratic transition on the island.

William Sanchez, an attorney for the Cuban-American non-profit Democracy Movement, urged Bush to tell Cuba to set an elections timetable and let Cuban-Americans come to the island to help with a political transition.

The Cuban government used such statements by what it calls the "terrorist mafia" in Miami _ as well as Bush's call Thursday for democratic change on the island _ to justify its fears of an invasion.

It also expressed sympathy for the Lebanese people's struggle with their own "aggressor" _ Israel. In the first decree to be issued since Castro's unprecedented transfer of power, the foreign ministry condemned the Israeli bombing of the Lebanese village of Qana as "cowardly, vile and criminal."

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