Ending eight months of silence, ailing Cuban President Fidel Castro published an article in Cuban state media Thursday criticizing US environmental policies. The article published in the Cuban Communist Party Daily Granma was the first attempt by Castro, who is recuperating from intestinal surgery, to comment on international issues since he was taken ill in July 2006.
Since the announcement of the temporary delegation of powers to his younger brother Raul July 31, Fidel Castro has only been seen in half a dozen videos and several pictures, the last ones published in March with Colombian Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. "More than 3 billion people in the world condemned to premature death by hunger and thirst," read the headline in Castro's article, which claimed that US President George W Bush's support for using crops to produce ethanol for automobiles in rich nations could deplete food stocks in developing countries. Cuba had declared Castro's health a "state secret" and has not revealed the exact cause of his illness. Over the past months, the many rumours of the imminent death of the Cuban leader have been strongly denied by the authorities. However, over the last few weeks the expectation of a "comeback" has increased, owing to several hints by Cuban and international officials. A few weeks ago, Bolivian president, Evo Morales, announced the possibility of a public appearance by Castro on April 28. This would mark the occasion of the first anniversary of Bolivia's joining the Alternativa Bolivariana para las Americas (ALBA), the Cuban and Venezuelan alternative to the US-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Cuba has not yet confirmed this appearance and the island is entering its ninth month without its leader of almost half a century. In the article, Castro warned that the plans to convert products like corn or soy into ethanol for use as fuel additives could cause serious ecological damage and would adversely affect the third world population. Castro refers to a meeting Bush had Monday with the leading US automotive groups, in which the president urged them to double the number of vehicles fuelled by alternative combustibles such as ethanol, in an attempt to combat climate change and also to reduce the US's dependence of oil. "I think that reducing and recycling all the electricity and combustible consuming motors is an elemental and urgent necessity for all humanity. The tragedy does not consist in reducing the costs of energy, but in the idea of converting food into combustibles," Castro says in the article. According to the Cuban leader, even if the US dedicated its entire corn production to the production of ethanol, there still would not be enough ethanol for its fuel needs. The Cuban president considers that instead of these policies, countries should concentrate in other ways of saving energy, as Cuba does. "All the countries in the world, poor and rich, could save millions and millions of dollars just by changing all incandescent light bulbs into fluorescent ones, something Cuba has been doing in all homes. That would give climate change a break without starving the poor masses of the world,", considers Castro, who in the past few years has made ecology one of his major interests. In it, he says he has been "meditating quite a bit since President Bush's meeting with North American automobile makers". During that meeting on Monday, Mr Castro writes, "the sinister idea of converting food into combustibles was definitively established as the economic line of foreign policy of the United States". Mr Bush has set targets for an increased use of ethanol - which in the US is mainly made from corn. The US government hopes this will reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil. The US and Brazil recently signed an agreement to develop biofuels, and their presidents are expected to hold further talks on the matter at the weekend.