HAVANA (CWN) - Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has gone before a national television audience to thank the people of Cuba for their comportment during the "historic" visit of Pope John Paul II. Castro spoke of "my profound admiration, my recognition, and my gratitude" to the people who participated in the papal events.

      Castro claimed that many people had sought to politicize the Pope's trip, to "strike a blow against the revolution. But, he said, "the Cuban people found a better response." Castro did not mention the political questions raised by the Pope himself, such as the call for release of political prisoners.

      In a related event, the official Vatican newspaper today issued a new statement of opposition to the US-led embargo on trade with Cuba. L'Osservatore Romano said that the embargo was an "archaic" policy based on "fear and exclusion," which hurt the people rather than the regime. Castro strongly rejected a proposal by Cuban exile groups in the United States to provide food and medical aid to needy Cubans while continuing the 36-year-old embargo against the Communist country.

      "The Cuban government, with all the dignity in the world and in the name of the Cuban people who are a symbol of the greatest dignity in the world, says 'no'," Castro said with strong emotion. "The idea consists in offering humanitarian aid with humiliating conditions and maintaining a rigorous blockade." Castro refused the aid in a four-hour television appearance that continued into the early hours of Tuesday morning which focused on Pope John Paul's visit to the country last month.

      The proposal voiced by the Cuban American National Federation and supported by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, would earmark food and medicine for Cuba through the Food for Poor program, but the exile group has said the point of the program is to humiliate Castro as being unable to provide for his people. "It (the plan) is a repugnant and immoral maneuver, a rude reply to the Pope's proposals .. an insult to the Cuban religious institutions and a challenge to the (Cuban) people who resist and will resist with honor," Castro said. "Cuba is not begging, Cuba is not asking for humanitarian aid, Cuba is asking for the end of the blockade." Castro said he did support a proposal in the US Congress that would modify the proposal to allow food and medicine sales to Cuba.

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February 4, 1998 volume 9, no. 25          DAILY CATHOLIC

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