CIEGO DE AVILA, Cuba -- Proclaiming that friends can be found even among his country's worst enemies, Fidel Castro thanked U.S. Congress members who voted this week to ease sanctions against the communist-ruled island.
Speaking at a rally Friday to mark the start of the Cuban revolution, the Cuban leader said the House vote passing the measure was a gesture of such significance that it doesn't matter if President Bush uses his veto as threatened.
"Nor does it matter if new ruses and provocations are invented to annul them," Castro said in his annual address, attended by tens of thousands of people, many waving Cuban flags and wearing red T-shirts.
"I would like to express our people's gratitude to both the Democratic and Republican legislators who on that day acted intelligently and strongly, following their own beliefs," Castro told the crowd gathered in this central provincial capital.
The lawmakers voted "with determination and courage for three amendments that bring glory to that institution," Castro said, referring to the U.S. Congress. "We shall always be grateful for that gesture."
Courting a presidential veto, the House of Representatives voted Tuesday to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba that have been in place for more than four decades -- except when they were briefly lifted during the administration of President Jimmy Carter.
The House also voted to remove hurdles on the sale of food and medicine to Cuba and lift the caps on money that Cuban-Americans can send relatives in Cuba.
The measures now go to the Senate.
The White House said this week that the president would be urged to veto the spending bill containing those measures if it included an end to the travel ban.
"I have always said -- and I shall never regret it -- that the American people ... will be among the Cuban people's best friends when they learn the whole truth about Cuba's honest and heroic struggle," said Castro.
The Cuban leader also referred to the strong support many Americans expressed for the return of Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba during a seven-month international custody battle.
After armed federal agents seized Elian from his relatives' home in Miami, the battle went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, was given permission to return with his son to Cuba in June 2000.
Castro also reiterated earlier statements that Cuba supported American efforts to end international terrorism -- while still opposing U.S. military action in Afghanistan.
"We shall always be on the American people's side in its struggle to preserve the lives and interests of its citizens who might become innocent victims of criminal terrorist attacks," he said.