HAVANA, Cuba, Apr 20 (Reuters) Forty-five years after it defeated a CIA-trained invasion force at the Bay of Pigs, Cuba continues to defy the world's biggest power, Cuban President Fidel Castro said.
Castro yesterday said his Communist-run country was not afraid of a US naval force led by the aircraft carrier USS George Washington currently carrying out exercises in the Caribbean.
''This nation faced up to the strongest superpower on Earth and it is still on its feet,'' Castro said in a speech marking the failed US-planned attempt to overthrow his fledgling revolutionary government in 1961.
''We are not commemorating this 45th anniversary on our knees.
There will never be a force in the world capable of bringing us to our knees,'' he said.
Cuba's closest Latin American ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, this week accused the United States of threatening his country and Cuba with the deployment of four US warships in the Caribbean.
Castro said the US government had too much on its plate elsewhere to be a threat to Cuba today.
''There are some little boats going about. Who is afraid of them? Nobody,'' Castro, dressed in his trademark green uniform, told militia veterans at Havana's Karl Marx theater.
''They never frightened anyone. They should not waste their time here. They have enough problems in the world,'' said the Cuban leader, who will be 80 in August.
Castro defended Iran's right to develop a nuclear energy program and said the United States was at a dead-end in Iraq and would have to withdraw.
For Cuban authorities, another anniversary of the Battle of the Bay of Pigs serves to keep the island's 11 million people alert to the threat of a US invasion.
After US troops invaded Iraq and toppled President Saddam Hussein in 2003, staunch anti-Castro exiles in Miami were calling for ''Cuba next.'' The Bush administration two years ago launched a plan to undermine Castro with tightened economic sanctions and hasten a transition to multiparty democracy.
DOWNED B-26 BOMBERS Wreckage of downed B-26 bombers and a captured M-41 tank exhibited at a museum recall the disastrous landing at Playa Giron beach in the Bay of Pigs on Cuba's south coast.
At dawn on April 17, 1961, as the B-26s strafed coastal villages, 1,500 Cuban exiles organised and armed by the CIA came ashore in launches from US merchant ships. Two days before, the B-26s had bombed Cuba's three main air bases.
''At first we thought it was thunder and lightning when the attack began,'' said retired sugar mill worker Ramon Medina, 62, who joined up as a militia fighter. ''We could not believe they would land in such an inhospitable place,'' he said.
The invaders never got beyond the mosquito-infested swamps surrounding the Bay of Pigs, as Castro's government scrambled to defend itself.
After three days of fighting, the invaders were defeated, 108 had been killed and 1,197 captured, their hopes of sparking an uprising against Castro dashed.
A year later, the prisoners were returned to the United States after Washington paid out 53 million dollars in food and medicines in exchange for their release.
The invasion was a diplomatic embarrassment for US President John F. Kennedy and served to strengthen Castro, who declared his government to be Socialist on the eve of the imminent attack.
It also pushed Cuba into a strategic relationship with the Soviet Union, leading to the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
REUTERS PG PM0733