HAVANA — Fidel Castro says President Barack Obama's "friendly smile and African-American face" are hiding Washington's sinister intentions for Latin America — more evidence of a new cooling in U.S.-Cuba relations after a thaw had seemed possible just months ago.
In a letter to Hugo Chavez that the Venezuelan president read at the close of a summit of leftist Latin American nations Monday, Castro said the U.S. "empire is on the offensive again" in the region.
He blamed Washington for a military coup that toppled leftist President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in June and criticized a U.S. agreement with Colombia that allows U.S. troops greater access to seven of that country's military bases.
"They are obviously the real intentions of the empire, this time under the friendly smile and African-American face of Barack Obama," Castro said.
The 83-year-old former Cuban president heaped praise on Obama when he first took office, calling him intelligent, sincere, serene, courageous, honest and well-meaning. He later endorsed Obama's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize.
But Castro has turned on Obama, saying in an opinion piece in state media last week that the U.S. president's acceptance of the Nobel prize after deciding to send 30,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan was "a cynical act."
His letter to Chavez is the latest sign that reconciliation between the U.S. and the communist-governed island isn't likely soon. That had seemed a possibility as recently as the spring, when the White House eased restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to travel and send money to this country and Obama spoke of a possible new beginning in relations.
On Saturday, the U.S. State Department said Cuba detained an American citizen Dec. 5 who had been working in Cuba as a subcontractor for a Maryland-based economic development organization.
Cuba's government has not commented, but word of the arrest came after both sides blamed each other for the postponement of meetings scheduled for this month to discuss immigration issues.
In November, the State Department denounced an assault — allegedly by plainclothes Cuban state security agents — on the island's top dissident blogger, Yoani Sanchez. Obama later sent a lengthy message praising Sanchez and answering a series of questions from her.
Prominent American blacks recently denounced racism in Cuba, which is a touchy subject for this nation, and the Cuban military conducted war games against a U.S. invasion, which authorities here still insist is a real possibility.
The idea that Washington is turning up the heat on the leftist governments in Latin America dominated the two-day meeting of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a regional trade group known as ALBA that was founded by Chavez as an alternative to U.S.-backed, free-trade consortiums.
Bolivian President Evo Morales said that if the U.S. threatened Latin America militarily, the region would rise up and create "a second Vietnam." Chavez quipped that Obama was the winner of the "Nobel Prize of War."
The Venezuelan leader also responded to recent comments by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who warned Latin American governments to "think twice" about building ties with Iran.
"It's ridiculous, the threat of the secretary of state, and we aren't afraid of her," Chavez said.