HAVANA – An outspoken British lawmaker appeared on Cuban television praising Fidel Castro as a "lion" of world politics and defending the Cuban leader against a magazine report naming him one of the world's wealthiest rulers.
George Galloway, on an unannounced visit to Havana, showered Castro with praise in his Wednesday night appearance on the communist government's daily public-affairs program Mesa Redonda, or Round Table.
"No responsible person in the world believes that Fidel Castro has a personal fortune of $900 million," Galloway said, referring to the wealth Forbes magazine attributed to Castro.
The lawmaker, who formed the Respect Party after he was thrown out of the Labor Party for urging British soldiers not to fight in Iraq, called Castro a "lion" in the political world and said most other politicians were "monkeys."
In its May 5 "Fortunes Of Kings, Queens And Dictators" article, Forbes put Castro 7th in a list of 10 world leaders with "lofty positions and vast fortunes."
His estimated wealth, according to the magazine, is nearly double that of the US$500 million of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and just under Prince Albert II of Monaco's estimated US$1 billion.
Forbes said it assumed Castro has economic control over a network of state-owned companies, including El Palacio de Convenciones, a convention center near Havana; Cimex, retail conglomerate; and Medicuba, which sells vaccines and other pharmaceuticals produced in Cuba. The article also referred to rumors of Castro having "large stashes in Swiss bank accounts."
Last week, also on Round Table, Castro called the report "rubbish" and said he'll resign the day critics prove he has money in foreign accounts.
Castro sat by as well on Wednesday night's Round Table, which lasted seven hours. He again defended himself in what's becoming a full-fledged government campaign to discredit the report.
Several Cuban officials have also made appearances on the show to enumerate Castro's virtues.
"The Cubans are the only people in the entire world who have a leader who can say that he doesn't possess one dollar to his name," Galloway said.