Associated Press
June 29, 2001

Castro Attends Rally in Cuba


              HAVANA (AP) -- Fidel Castro asked the Cuban people for their forgiveness in
              advance Friday for any ``passing unpleasantness'' they may experience the day he

              Speaking with reporters after his first outdoor public appearance since his fainting
              spell last weekend, Castro admitted that many Cubans are upset by the thought of him

              ``I ask the people's forgiveness beforehand for the day that something happens to me
              ... (for) the passing unpleasantness that it could cause them,'' the 74-year-old Cuban
              leader said.

              Two hours into a speech under a sweltering sun on June 23, Castro appeared to faint
              and was led off the stage by his aides. Some people gasped. Others wept.

              He returned less than 10 minutes later to assure the crowd he was fine, attributing his
              ``fatigue'' to the intense heat and lack of rest.

              ``I don't know what day I will die, but I am not worried about it, I enjoy celestial
              tranquility,'' Castro said after the morning rally called to protest a Miami jury's
              convictions earlier this month of five Cuban agents.

              Castro on Friday confirmed once again that his heir apparent is his brother Raul, 70,
              the defense minister. Raul Castro ``is in good health ... and really after me he is the
              one who has the most experience, most knowledge, something that may not be well
              known,'' the Cuban leader said.

              Castro said that if he knew that tomorrow morning he would suffer a heart attack, a
              stroke or other ailment that would kill him, ``the person who has the most authority and
              experience'' after him is his brother.

              ``There is not only Raul, but a plethora of young people with talent,'' who will carry on
              Cuba's socialist system, Castro said. No changes will occur, he said, because the
              Cuban revolution's ideals are deeply ingrained in national society.

              ``Not even with the degree of authority I enjoy could I guide this country down a road
              that would separate it from the revolution and I suppose I have a high degree of
              authority,'' the Cuban leader said.

              Dressed in his traditional olive green uniform, Castro sat in the front row facing the
              permanent stage erected in the plaza outside the U.S. Interests Section, the American
              mission here. The government said 40,000 people were at the event.

              Castro did not address the crowd, but afterward personally greeted other officials and
              relatives of the jailed agents, whom he has described as heroes who were merely
              gathering information that could protect communist Cuba from terrorist attacks.

              He then spoke with journalists for another hour, often joking about his health.

              ``I'll go before I faint,'' Castro quipped. ``I promise that I will not faint again, I will not
              become fatigued again, because if such a disgraceful thing occurs the (news) cables
              will be raining.''