updated 2/2/2005 11:11:01 AM ET 2005-02-02T16:11:01

Cuban leader Fidel Castro said President Bush appeared “deranged” during his inauguration speech, and he expressed little enthusiasm for renewed diplomatic ties with the European Union.

In comments aired on state-run television late Tuesday, Castro told thousands of teachers attending an international pedagogy conference in Havana that he closely watched Bush’s inauguration speech Jan. 20 and saw “the face of a deranged person.”

“If only it were just the face,” he said, to roars of applause.

Castro, wearing his olive green military uniform, criticized Bush’s government, linking it to corruption and torture. He then defended Cuba’s socialist system, which the Bush administration has said should be replaced with a democratic, free-market one.

“This country is heaven, in the spiritual sense of the word,” he said. “And I say (to Bush): We prefer to die in heaven than survive in hell.”

EU policy irks Castro
Castro was unimpressed with this week’s decision by EU foreign ministers to lift a ban on high-level government visits and stop inviting Cuban dissidents to embassy gatherings in Havana. The 25-nation bloc had imposed sanctions on Cuba after Castro’s government cracked down on government opponents in March 2003.

The EU’s new policy, which demands the release of all imprisoned dissidents, is up for review in July.

“They are treating us ... as if we were condemned to a death sentence,” using these months to “observe how I behave,” Castro said.

Cuba “doesn’t need the United States, it doesn’t need Europe,” he added. “What a wonderful thing to be able to say, that (Cuba) doesn’t need any assistance — it’s learned to live without it.”

Castro, 78, stood up for much of his five-hour speech. After he broke his right arm and shattered his left kneecap in an accidental fall in October, the Cuban leader was in a wheelchair before he started standing up and walking again in December.

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