HAVANA - Abraham Lincoln alongside Che Guevara? Cuban leader Fidel Castro linked the two yesterday in a newspaper column ridiculing American calls for democratic change in Cuba.

Castro praised Lincoln for abolishing slavery in the United States, writing in two state-run newspapers that the Civil War president was "anchored to the just idea that all citizens are born free and equal."

The essay was the first response by the ailing Castro, 81, to a speech Wednesday in which President Bush vowed to maintain U.S. pressure on Cuba and urged Cubans to "shape your own destiny" by ridding themselves of the communist government.

Castro poked fun at Bush's call of "Long Live Free Cuba!" - a rallying cry of the 1868 independence struggle led by a landowner who freed his slaves - and tied Lincoln to Ernesto "Che" Guevara, an Argentine physician who became a hero of the revolution led by Castro.

"Long Live Lincoln! Long Live Che!" Castro wrote as he capped his column.

Shortly after toppling dictator Fulgencio Batista and taking power in January 1959, Castro made an official visit to Washington, where he visited the Lincoln Memorial. He has told interviewers that he keeps a bust of Lincoln in one of his offices in Havana.

Castro also accused Bush of seeking the violent overthrow of his government, apparently because the U.S. president suggested that Cuban military and police leaders should "embrace your people's desire for change."

Castro has not been seen in public since undergoing intestinal surgery in 2006 and temporarily ceding power to a government headed by his younger brother Raul.