December 2, 2000

Castro: Mexican has lots of work ahead, hope among its people

                  MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) -- Cuban President Fidel Castro said Saturday that
                  Mexico had many social problems to solve as its new government takes office,
                  but he sees hope that things could change.

                  In a speech to city officials, broadcast to several thousand supporters gathered in
                  Mexico's main plaza, Fidel described President Vicente Fox's inauguration day
                  Friday as happy.

                  "I see from everyone a desire to do something for Mexico, a desire to work for
                  Mexico," he said.

                  However, he called Fox's proposal to eventually expand the North American Free
                  Trade Agreement into a common market, allowing the free movement of all
                  goods and workers between borders, as "ironic."

                  Castro said current U.S. immigration policy is an "assassin's law" that causes the
                  deaths of hundreds of Mexicans and Cubans trying to sneak into their northern
                  neighbor each year.

                  Castro met with Fox on Friday, but made no public comments afterward. Fox,
                  of the conservative National Action Party, described the 45-minute meeting as
                  good and said he planned to visit Cuba next year.

                  Outgoing President Ernesto Zedillo visited Cuba only to attend a regional summit
                  and irked Cuban officials with pointed comments about human rights.

                  Mexico's new leader, a former Coca-Cola executive, has pledged to continue his
                  country's opposition to the U.S. embargo against the Communist island, but has
                  said he would like to see a democratic transition in Cuba.

                  Castro's meeting Saturday with Mexico City Mayor Rosario Robles, of the leftist
                  Democratic Revolution Party, was broadcast to the plaza outside. Robles gave
                  Castro the keys to the city, and pledged to monitor Fox's government to make
                  sure that the country's poor and disenfranchised aren't forgotten.

                  Echoing Castro's call to fight for poorer countries' rights within the global
                  economy, Robles said: "We are obligated to talk with a single voice."

                  Castro said Mexico -- like many countries around the globe -- still has work to
                  do to in resolving its social problems.

                  Fox has pledged to reduce poverty by 30 percent and invest revenues from a
                  growing economy into better health care and education.

                  With a rapt crowd waving Cuban and Mexican flags, Castro reminisced about
                  his days in Mexico, where he planned the Cuban revolution and set out on the
                  now-famous boat called the Granma that carried him home to start his revolution
                  against the Batista dictatorship.

                  He praised Mexico for being the only Latin American country that refused to
                  break relations after the 1959 revolution.

                  Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.