updated 1/30/2004 6:21:26 PM ET 2004-01-30T23:21:26

Cuban President Fidel Castro accused President Bush on Friday of plotting with exiles in Miami to kill him and said he would die fighting if the United States ever invaded to oust him.

“I don’t care how I die,” Castro said at the end of a 5½-hour speech that began Thursday night and continued into early Friday. “But rest assured, if they invade us, I’ll die in combat.”

Castro did not back up his accusations with details. He spoke at the close of a conference bringing together activists across the region who oppose the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Castro has insisted over the past year that hard-line Cuban exiles in Miami have been pressuring the Bush administration to invade the island, a charge U.S. officials deny.

Castro, 77, also has increasingly referred to his own mortality in recent years, promising to remain in power until his last breath.

“We know that Mr. Bush has committed himself to the mafia ... to assassinate me,” he said, using the term commonly employed here to describe anti-Castro Cuban Americans. “I said it once before and today I’ll say it clearer: I accuse him!”

Castro has accused past U.S. administrations of seeking to assassinate him, and during his early years in power there were numerous documented cases of U.S.-sponsored attempts on his life.

Assassination now illegal
The assassination of foreign leaders as U.S. policy was banned in 1976 by an executive order signed by President Gerald Ford and reinforced by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Castro also criticized the Bush administration’s Commission for a Free Cuba, a panel set up in October and headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

When the United States announced the creation of the commission, Powell suggested that the goal was not to ease Castro out but to plan a strategy for Cuba once he was no longer in power.

Earlier in his speech, Castro called on the more than 1,000 activists from across the Americas who had gathered here to work against the U.S.-backed free trade pact, which he said would only further impoverish their nations.

The Bush administration has progressively hardened its policies toward the island. Cuban authorities charge that the strategy is aimed at wooing voters in Florida, which is home to most of the Cuban-American exiles living in the United States.

For more than four decades, the two countries have been without diplomatic ties, and a U.S. trade embargo against the island makes most trade between the nations impossible, except for sales of farm products.

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