Wealth dictates press: Castro

HAVANA: Fidel Castro defended Cuba's government-controlled press Friday, arguing that news coverage is manipulated by those wealthy enough to finance newsgathering even in countries guaranteeing press freedom.

In a column posted on a state Web site, the 82-year-old ex-president wrote that "today, only through gigantic investments can you provide centers that produce the news for the whole planet."

"And only those who manage them decide what gets reported and how it gets reported," he said.

In Cuba, all television, radio, newspapers, magazines and publishing houses are state-owned, and severe limits on private ownership and enterprise ban competing with official propaganda.

The Internet is also strictly controlled, and while a small number of Cuban bloggers with illegal Web access express their opinions openly, most do not enjoy as wide followings on the island as legions of official bloggers who repeat the government's line.

Some military and government officials are allowed Internet access and Castro has become an official blogger of sorts recently, almost every day posting online a column that is subsequently read on state radio and television and published in official newspapers.

Also Friday, he dismissed a report by the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as "pure garbage."

Released Thursday, the report criticized Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela and Haiti for failing to fully protect human rights. Cuban rights activists, whose work the government does not recognize but usually tolerates, estimate that about 200 political prisoners are being held on the island.

Cuba was expelled from the OAS in 1962 after member nations, under pressure from Washington, said its communist government went against the hemispheric body's principles. Despite suggestions that it may be time to reinstate Cuba as a member, Cuban leaders have said repeatedly their country is not interested.

Castro lashed out at the OAS and its commission, writing that the report was the work of the U.S. State Department and adding, "has it ever condemned the United States? No, never."

"Not even for the tortures of the base at Guantanamo? As far as we know, not one word," Castro wrote, referring to the U.S. naval base near the island's eastern tip.