HAVANA — It perhaps was not the endorsement President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress were looking for.
Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Thursday declared passage of American health care reform “a miracle” and a major victory for Obama’s presidency, but couldn’t help chide the United States for taking so long to enact what communist Cuba achieved decades ago.
“We consider health reform to have been an important battle and a success of his (Obama’s) government,” Castro wrote in an essay published in state media, adding that it would strengthen the president’s hand against lobbyists and “mercenaries.”
But the Cuban leader also used the lengthy piece to criticize the American president for his lack of leadership on climate change and immigration reform, and for his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, among many other things.
And he said it was remarkable that the most powerful country on earth took more than two centuries from its founding to approve something as basic as health benefits for all.
“It is really incredible that 234 years after the Declaration of Independence … the government of that country has approved medical attention for the majority of its citizens, something that Cuba was able to do half a century ago,” Castro wrote.
The longtime Cuban leader — who ceded power to his brother Raul in 2008 — has continued to pronounce his thoughts on world issues though frequent essays, titled “Reflections,” which are published in state newspapers.
Cuba provides free health care and education to all its citizens, and heavily subsidizes food, housing, utilities and transportation, policies that have earned it global praise. The government has warned that some of those benefits are no longer sustainable given Cuba’s ever-struggling economy, though it has so far not made major changes.
In recent speeches, Raul Castro has singled out medicine as an area where the government needs to be spending less, but he has not elaborated.
While Fidel Castro was initially positive about Obama, his essays have become increasingly hostile in recent months as relations between Cuba and the United States have soured. Washington has been increasingly alarmed by Cuba’s treatment of political dissidents — one of whom died in February after a long hunger strike.
Cuba was irate over the island’s inclusion earlier this year on a list of countries Washington considers to be state sponsors of terrorism. Tensions have also risen following the arrest in December of a U.S. government contractor that Havana accuses of spying.
In Thursday’s essay, Castro called Obama a “fanatic believer in capitalist imperialism” but also praised him as “unquestionably intelligent.”
“I hope that the stupid things he sometimes says about Cuba don’t cloud over that intelligence,” he said.