updated 2/29/2008 5:38:11 PM ET 2008-02-29T22:38:11

Fidel Castro said Friday he helped choose candidates for Cuba's new government, and asserted that his brother Raul is fully in charge as the new president.

In his first comments since his brother assumed the presidency last weekend, the elder Castro was apparently trying to quash speculation he would continue directing Raul — and the nation's affairs — from his sickbed.

In an essay published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma, Fidel Castro described his role in selecting the governing body his brother now heads as president. But he did not mention involvement in any decision-making since Raul assumed permanent power.

Raul Castro has "all legal and constitutional faculties and prerogatives" to lead Cuba," Fidel Castro wrote.

The dreams of Cuban exiles and others who hoped that Cuba's communist state would collapse have been frustrated, the elder Castro wrote. "For many, our country was a steam-filled cauldron about to burst."

The 81-year-old Fidel announced last week that he would not seek a new presidential term, acknowledging he was too ill to govern the communist country after 49 years at the helm.

Raul Castro, 76, already had been ruling provisionally for 19 months, taking over when Fidel announced he had undergone intestinal surgery and was temporarily stepping aside. But even during that period, Fidel Castro remained Cuba's uncontested leader.

Brothers gain permission to consult
On Sunday, Raul requested — and received — permission from lawmakers to consult with Fidel on "the decisions of special transcendence for the future of our nation" especially those involving "defense, foreign policy and socio-economic development."

In his comments, Fidel Castro also dismissed concerns about the advanced age of many of the members of the new Council of State, Cuba's supreme governing authority, who were elected Sunday by Parliament.

He noted that two key generals, Leopoldo Cintra Frias and Alvaro Lopez Miera, are both younger than U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who is 71. Cintra Frias and Lopez Miera are in their mid-60s.

The two generals are "much younger than McCain and have much more experience as military chiefs," Castro said.

In his Friday essay, Fidel also referred to the parliament's selection of 77-year-old Communist Party ideologue Jose Ramon Machado Ventura as the government's No. 2.

Many Cubans had expected the parliament to chose a much younger successor for Raul, and were stunned by the naming of a man known as a political hard liner.

"You can now hear the howls of the wolves trapped by their tails," Fidel wrote. "What rabidness is provoked especially by the election of Machadito as first vice president" of the Council of State.

Fidel has not been seen in public since falling ill in July 2006, but he had regularly published columns under the title "Reflections of the Commander in Chief." He wrote Friday's column under the title "Reflections of Comrade Fidel," as he had promised in his resignation letter last week.

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