By Frances Kerry
HAVANA, Jan 28 (Reuter) - Cuban President Fidel Castro on Tuesday angrily dismissed a U.S. plan to provide Cuba with billions of dollars in help if it dumps its communist system and Castro himself, telling Washington that Cuba is not for sale.
"What most angers us is that they are trying to buy us," Castro said. "There is not strength or money in the world capable of turning us into slaves again," he told an annual rally in Havana to mark the 154th anniversary of the birth of Cuba's independence hero Jose Marti.
"It is unworthy to think that liberty and dignity can be bought, unworthy that someone thinks that we will be capable of being slaves again," added Castro, in power since the 1959 revolution that toppled former dictator Fulgencio Batista.
"As if this people were capable of betraying the blood spilt since 1868 until now," he added, referring to the start of Cuba's independence wars against Spain.
Castro, 70, was responding to a document released by the White House on Tuesday that dangled before Cuba the prospect of billions of dollars in loans and investment. It said the money could be Havana's if it embraced democracy and dumped Castro.
Castro's reaction was predictable. Virtually since taking power, he has been resisting pressure from the United States for change. And after Washington toughened its 35-year-embargo with the Helms-Burton law last year, Havana vowed it would not bend to new threats.
The White House document, with a preface written by President Bill Clinton, presented a "carrot" aspect of Helms-Burton, outlining how the United States and others would help Cuba if the country joined the ranks of "prosperous democratic nations."
"It is reasonable to project that during a six-year period following the establishment of a transition government, Cuba would receive from $4 billion to $8 billion from the international financial institutions, multilateral organizations and individual countries," the report said.
Cuba also could expect to attract more than $1 billion anually from its expatriates in the United States -- once Washington lifts limits on money transfers -- as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign direct investment.
The sums involved are impressive for a country that has been desperately struggling to recover from the collapse of its old trade and aid partner the former Soviet Union, and whose economy contracted by more than one third in the three years from 1990.
In the past three years, Cuba has undertaken cautious economic reforms and is now starting to see a modest recovery.
But authorities from Castro down have vowed the reforms are to preserve the socialist system, not demolish it.
The White House report said such assistance from the United States would be available to a "transition government," which is defined under Helms-Burton as a government that does not include either Fidel Castro or his brother Raul, who is deputy president and defense minister. The law also demands a radical overhaul to Cuba's one-party political system.
These aspects of Helms-Burton have been largely ignored amid far wider world interest in clauses of the legislation that seek to discourage foreign investment in Cuba with provisions to punish some firms doing business on the island.
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Date: 4 Feb 97