The Miami Herald
Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Castro meets six hours with German economy minister

 HAVANA -- (AP) -- Fidel Castro played dinner host to German Economy Minister Werner Mueller, discussing everything from French poetry to Europe's relationship with Latin America in a six-hour meeting that ended early Tuesday.

 Castro looked quite healthy and animated during the gathering at his offices at the Council of State, Mueller told a morning briefing with German reporters in the traveling delegation. ``He was among the fittest at the table,'' the German minister said.

 Mueller said he encouraged Castro and the other Cuban officials at the dinner to undertake additional economic reforms on the communist island, arguing that such
 moves would stimulate more German investment here.

 The minister said he didn't bring up human rights during his meeting with Castro, and the U.S. embargo didn't come up either.

 Castro spoke in favor of universal Internet access, but was less enthusiastic about satellite television, Mueller said.

 About 10 German officials attended the dinner, including five members of parliament, said Mueller. Seven of eight Cuban officials were there, including Castro, he said.

 Mueller arrived in Havana on Sunday at the head of a 30-member trade delegation of officials and business representatives. The group was returning to Germany later Tuesday.

 Mueller on Monday opened a $14.3 million Cuban-German joint venture to produce industrial gas, and said he believed economic reforms on the communist-run island were heading ``in the right direction.''

 Mueller cut the tape at Oxicuba S.A., a joint venture on the outskirts of Havana formed by Gases Industriales de Cuba and Stefan Messer GmbH from Krefeld, Germany.

 Oxicuba, whose $14.3 million capital is split evenly between the German and Cuban companies, is to provide up to 140 tons a day of oxygen mainly to the western
 regions of the island.

 With the aid of foreign capital, Cuba's economy is recovering from a slump sparked by the collapse of its former ally, the Soviet Union.

 After the two countries negotiated a deal last year on part of Cuba's debt to the former East Germany, officials believe there is room to boost current, modest trade levels.

 Germany sells about $104 million worth of goods annually to Cuba, only about 0.01 percent of its total exports. It ranks between eighth and 10th among Cuba's most important export markets, well behind other European Union members Spain, Italy, Britain and France.

 The accord on $100 million worth of debt allows German firms to apply for government warranties on exports to Cuba. Germany is also funding a $4.7 million program to fight desertification on the Caribbean island.

                                    © 2001