By Anita Snow, The Associated Press
HAVANA - Amid growing concern that Brazil's economic meltdown will
infect the region, President Fidel Castro opened a forum Monday on the
impact of the global financial crisis on developing nations.
The Cuban leader did not speak during the opening session, but later in
afternoon he quizzed economists about the seriousness of the crisis
compared with the Depression of 1929.
''What will happen with the speculation in the markets, the speculation
currencies?'' asked Castro, who wore a dark blue suit and tie rather than
his typical olive fatigues.
Argentine economist Jorge Beinstein replied, ''The level of destruction,
world economic terms, will be much worse.''
Castro proposed the forum last year, as the financial crisis was spreading
across Asia. It hit Brazil in August, when investors pulled their money out
of the country for fear that it would default on its loans.
During the 1980s, Cuba hosted similar economic forums on the foreign
debt then weighing down Latin American nations and became a regional
leader in support of foreign debt moratoriums.
The Cuban leader presided over Monday's inauguration of the five-day
event, attended by hundreds of economists at Havana's Convention Palace.
Vice President Carlos Lage, the architect of the communist country's
modest economic reforms, and Economics Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez
Garcia also were on hand.
Roberto Verrier Castro, president of Cuba's National Association of
Economists, told participants the current global financial crisis required ''a
complete revision of traditional economic models.''
''The previous dogmas are falling,'' he said.
Visiting speakers included Brazilian economist Theotonio Dos Santos,
Guatemalan Romulo Caballeros of the United Nations' Economic
Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Andres Solimano of the
World Bank, who was scheduled to speak on Monday, did not show up.
Also listed on the schedule were Makarim Wibisono, Indonesia's
ambassador to the United Nations, and Patrick Low, director of general
economic studies for the World Trade Organization. Most of the other
participants were from developing countries, primarily in Latin America.
Castro opposes free market policies and points to the current global
financial crisis as proof of its harm to developing countries.
Economists fear that if Brazil succumbs to an Asian-style currency crisis,
economy - Latin America's largest - could infect and drag down other
economies in the region.
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