HAVANA – In his first public remarks since the United States dubbed Cuba an outpost of tyranny, Fidel Castro (search) called President Bush "deranged" and belittled recent improvements in relations between Cuba and Europe.
In a televised address late Tuesday, Castro maintained his trademark go-it-alone attitude, saying his communist-run island is a paradise that is doing fine without the help of the United States or Europe.
Cuba (search) "doesn't need the United States. It doesn't need Europe," he said. "What a wonderful thing to be able to say, that [Cuba] doesn't need any assistance — it's learned to live without it."
Speaking at an international pedagogy conference in Havana, Castro referred only briefly to comments by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search), who last month identified Cuba, Myanmar, Belarus and Zimbabwe as "outposts of tyranny" that would require close U.S. attention. He said if the mission of Bush's administration was to crush tyranny, "our mission is to defeat empires."
The Cuban leader, wearing his olive green military uniform, linked Bush's government to corruption and torture. He said he closely watched the U.S. leader's inauguration speech Jan. 20 and saw "the face of a deranged person."
"If only it were just the face," he said to roars of applause by educators from 52 countries at the conference.
The Cuban leader also warned against a potential invasion by the United States, a theme often repeated in public addresses. Washington has said repeatedly it has no plans to attack the Caribbean island.
"If they make the mistake of attacking this country, well Mr. Bush, or whoever will be there, I recommend to you it would be better if you use 50 nuclear bombs to exterminate all of us," he said.
Castro staunchly defended Cuba's socialist system, which the Bush administration has openly said should be replaced with a democratic, free-market one.
"This country is heaven, in the spiritual sense of the word," he said. "And I say [to Bush], we prefer to die in heaven than survive in hell."
Castro, 78, stood for much of the five-hour speech. After he broke his right arm and shattered his left kneecap in an accidental fall in October, he used a wheelchair before he standing up and walking again in December.
He expressed little enthusiasm for renewed diplomatic ties between Cuba and the European Union, indicating with displeasure that this week's decision by EU foreign ministers to lift sanctions on Cuba was temporary.
Under the decision, high-level governmental visits will resume and embassies will stop inviting Cuban dissidents to their gatherings in Havana. The 25-nation bloc had imposed the sanctions after Castro's government cracked down on opponents in March 2003.
The EU's new policy, which demands the release of all imprisoned dissidents, is up for review in July.
"They are treating us ... as if we were condemned to a death sentence," using these months to "observe how I behave," Castro said.