It must have been the grace of God, Castro suggests, apparently joking, in a short essay distributed Thursday via e-mail to journalists in Havana. "The Good Lord protected me."
Castro's words were chosen carefully, in an echo – with a twist – of comments made earlier in the day by President Bush after a speech at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
"One day the good Lord will take Fidel Castro away," said Mr. Bush, in response to a question from the audience, indirectly but obviously referring to the day when Castro will die and bring to an end the era that began with the revolution he led a generation ago.
Hearing those words, the audience applauded, prompting President Bush to say, "No, no, no," evidently to indicate that his statement was not a wish for Castro's death.
President Bush also said his administration will "continue to press for freedom on the island of Cuba."
Asked whether President Bush was wishing Castro dead, White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: "The president was commenting on an inevitable event."
CBS News Havana producer Portia Siegelbaum reports Castro, in a statement released Thursday, quoted both President Bush and Johndroe, and shot back with a sarcastic assessment of the mortality of his critics. "It seems the genial functionary [Johndroe] and his boss are going to live thousands of years," said Castro. "Now I understand why I survived the plans of Bush and the presidents who ordered my assassination: the Good Lord protected me."
Castro's citing divine intervention on his behalf was most likely just a rhetorical device. Castro was educated at Roman Catholic schools in his youth, but rarely mentions God or religious matters, a rare exception being in 1998, when Pope John Paul II visited Cuba.
Cuba has maintained diplomatic relations with the Vatican since the revolution that came to power in 1959. But the government was officially atheist for several decades until the early 1990s, when the Constitution was changed and believers for the first time were allowed to join the Communist Party.
President Bush's comments and Castro's response came just one day after newly declassified papers were released showing that the CIA recruited a former FBI agent to approach two of America's most-wanted mobsters and gave them poisonous pills meant for Castro during his first year in power.
Contained among hundreds of pages of CIA internal reports collectively known asthe official confirmation of the 1960 plot against Castro was welcomed by communist authorities as more proof of their long-standing claims that the United States wants Castro dead.
The assassination plots, according Castro, are not just a matter of history. In two recent commentaries, the convalescing Cuban leader claims that President Bush has been trying to kill him. He did not provide any details of those alleged plots.