After US lawmakers' visit, Fidel thinks Obama "sincere," but ...

Fidel CastroHavana/Washington  - After meeting with US lawmakers, Cuba's retired leader Fidel Castro said Wednesday that while he believes US President Barack Obama's intentions towards Cuba are "sincere," they clash with the "objective reality" within the United States.

In an article published Wednesday in Cuban state media, Castro spoke of his two-hour meeting Tuesday with three members of the US Congressional Black Caucus.

The man who formally stepped down from power in Cuba in February 2008 after almost half-a-century was reacting to comments made by US Democratic Representative Laura Richardson.

Richardson and two other US congress members met him at his home on Tuesday, then returned to Washington and spoke to reporters.

"He leaned in, he looked directly into our eyes, and said to us, 'How can we help President Obama?' I got a sense (...) that he really wants President Obama to succeed, he sincerely wants an opportunity to see in his lifetime a change in America," Richardson said.

In the text, Castro praised Richardson, Barbara Lee and Bobby Rush, the three US Congress members who met with him. It was the first encounter any US officials have had with Fidel Castro since he fell ill at the end of July 2006 and turned over interim power to his brother Raul.

Most of that time the 82-year-old leader spent in hospital for treatment of an unspecified stomach ailment. Castro said he described to his US visitors his experiences of being hospitalized "over two years and seven months."

"I explained what I learned in this time of forced seclusion, particularly the great interest in what happened in the world and especially in the United States," Castro said.

For Castro, the legislators "showed transparency, pride in their tasks, their organization, their fight and their country. It is obvious that they know Obama and they show confidence, certainty and friendliness towards him," Castro said.

His comments cleared up some of the mystery surrounding his whereabouts, and indicated he was released from hospital in February. He has not been seen in public since his illness began in 2006.

In Washington, the US legislators said they found the elderly historic Cuban leader "very healthy, very energetic and clear- thinking."

Lee said that she was convinced the Cubans want to talk with Washington about normalizing relations.

Lee said she would tell Obama that the Cuban leadership, including President Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, appeared to communicate "their willingness and their desire to sit down and have a dialogue and discussions leading hopefully to a normal diplomatic relations."

"It is time to look at a new direction in our foreign policy," said Lee.

"The 50-year embargo just hasn't worked, and American citizens should have the right to travel to Cuba. It's in our economic interest to do business with Cuba," Lee said.

Obama during his election campaign advocated a "new strategy" for Cuba and could offer more changes at the summit of the Americas April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago.

Last week, the US Senate introduced a bill that would lift travel restrictions for US citizens to Cuba. The Congress temporarily eased travel restrictions for family members last month when it cut off money to enforce travel restrictions on families that had been further tightened under former president George W Bush.

The Congress members were the first Americans to meet with Castro since he fell ill and handed power to Raul, who met with the delegation on Monday. (dpa)

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