HAVANA (AP) – Fidel Castro said Friday he made the right call when he called it quits, and is exhausted and overdue for a vacation. But the old man can’t put away his pen just yet, not when U.S. presidential candidates are one-upping each other to show who’s toughest on Cuba.

After a Thursday night debate in which Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama argued about how best to push for change in Cuba, Republican John McCain bluntly said Friday that he hopes Castro will die “very soon.”

With comments like these flying around the campaign trail and the White House dissing his younger brother Raul as a “dictator lite,” Castro said he couldn’t hold back.

“I enjoyed observing the embarrassing position of all the presidential candidates in the United States. One by one, they could be seen forced to proclaim their immediate demands of Cuba so as not to alienate a single voter,” Castro wrote.

“‘Change, change, change!’ they shouted in unison. I agree. ‘Change!’ But in the United States.”

Now 81 and ailing, Castro wrote that preparations for Cuba’s new parliament to select a new government Sunday produced “days of tension” that “left me exhausted.”

On Tuesday, he announced he wouldn’t accept another term as president, a decision he said he doesn’t regret.

“I slept better than ever,” he wrote. “My conscience was clear and I promised myself a vacation.”

Even so, he was publishing his column again just three days later, this time labeled “Reflections of Comrade Fidel” instead of “Reflections of the Commander in Chief.” State Web sites changed the column’s logo, replacing an image of Castro in olive-green fatigues with one of him in a business suit, half-smiling, his hand thrust high in a wave.

Castro’s writing appeared on page four of two government-run newspapers, though both dailies, Granma and Juventud Rebelde, put prominent teasers on their front pages. Castro wrote that he asked state news media not to run his essay on front pages anymore.

“I thought I’d stop writing these reflections for at least 10 days, but I didn’t have the right to keep silent for so long,” Castro wrote, referring to the comments on the U.S. campaign. “You have to open ideological fire on them.”

Of President Bush, he wrote: “‘Annexation, annexation, annexation!’ the adversary responds. That’s what he thinks, deep inside, when he talks about change.”

On Sunday, parliament is expected to name Raul Castro to replace his brother. Fidel Castro remains head of the Communist Party.

AP-ES-02-22-08 1514EST


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