The Miami Herald
August 17, 1998

             Castro to firm up ties with Dominicans

             Following Caribbean summit, leader to stay three more days

             By JUAN O. TAMAYO
             Herald Staff Writer

             Cuban President Fidel Castro's visit to the Dominican Republic this week is
             expected to finish cementing ties between two nations that compete head-on in
             tourism and cigars but share much history and culture.

             Castro arrives Thursday for a two-day summit of 16 Caribbean leaders, but plans
             to stay three more days to get acquainted with a nation that only in April resumed
             full diplomatic relations with Havana after 36 years.

             Thousands of Dominican police and soldiers and a reported 100 Cuban agents will
             guard the summit, following reports last week of a Cuban exile plot to assassinate

             Some Dominicans fret that their rapprochement with Havana will strain relations
             with Washington, and some of the 15,000 Cuban emigres in the Dominican
             Republic complain the media is making too much of the visit.

             ``As a Dominican citizen, I must say the government has a right to invite anyone,
             but we're giving too much importance to a person who has nothing to contribute to
             the world,'' said Cecilio Vasquez, former president of the Association of Cubans in
             the Dominican Republic.

             But Castro is likely to get a warm welcome from a nation where most Dominicans
             have a positive view of Cubans, those from the island as well as exiles.

             ``Cubans and Dominicans are the most similar people in the region because they
             share the same openness, friendliness and love of salsa music,'' said Rudy
             Gonzales, editor of the newspaper Listin Diario.

             Industrial interests

             Cuba and the Dominican Republic also have major stakes in key industries.

             A team of Cuban cigar experts spent several weeks in the Dominican Republic this
             winter learning production and marketing techniques that have helped make
             Dominicans the world's largest exporters of hand-rolled cigars.

             Havana officials also have studied a Dominican tourism industry booming with the
             same type of visitor that Cuba now attracts, Europeans and Canadians on
             low-cost vacation packages.

             Both countries are also fighting to revive state-run sugar industries so inefficient
             that their production costs are higher than world sugar prices.

             A market in Cuba

             Cuba is now a growing market for Dominicans who export construction materials,
             food, household chemicals and hotel furniture. Dominicans have been importing
             Cuban breeding cattle, horses and even fighting cocks.

             Castro also is likely to get a warm welcome from President Leonel Fernandez, a
             New York-educated lawyer whose Dominican Liberation Party (DLP) was
             founded in 1974 as a leftist party and kept close ties to Cuba.

             ``Our party always held that the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba and subjecting it to
             an implacable blockade [the trade embargo] is wrong,'' said Luis Ernesto Simo,
             vice minister of tourism and deputy DLP secretary for international affairs.

             DLP founder Juan Bosch, a self-described Marxist, was exiled briefly in Cuba
             during the Trujillo dictatorship in the 1950s. Elected president in 1963, he was
             toppled seven months later in a coup that led to a civil war and ultimately the U.S.
             invasion in 1965.

             Old adversaries

             Castro has reportedly expressed interest in meeting with both Bosch, now retired
             from politics, and former President Joaquin Balaguer, a conservative who refused
             diplomatic relations with Castro as he ruled the country for 22 of the last 32 years.

             Now 90 years old and blind but still active in politics, Balaguer is considered one
             of the craftiest politicians in Latin American history, a man who ruled through force
             and fraud until he was barred from seeking reelection in 1996.

             Fernandez has pushed the DLP toward the center and adopted a foreign policy far
             more active than Balaguer's, joining several Caribbean and Central American
             organizations and mending relations with Cuba.

             Santo Domingo restored consular relations with Havana last year in a bid to
             legalize the status of thousands of Cubans who arrived in recent years on
             short-term visas and stayed. It also negotiated an immigration agreement in order
             to return home several dozen who had arrived illegally by boat.

             `Problem for the Cubans'

             ``We are a sovereign nation that maintains diplomatic relations with all countries,''
             Simo said. The Cuban issue, he added, ``is a problem for the Cubans in Cuba and
             Cubans in Miami. We don't meddle in that.''

             Castro is expected to visit the city of Montecristi, 170 miles north of Santo
             Domingo, where Cuban independence hero Jose Marti issued a call in 1895 for a
             final war against Spain. He returned secretly from there to Cuba, and was killed in
             battle two months later.

             The Cuban president also will inaugurate a museum in the nearby town of Bani to
             Maximo Gomez, a native son who commanded the Cuban rebel army in the 1880s
             and earned a reputation as an invincible guerrilla fighter.

             Gomez's tactic of horseback charges with three-foot long machetes terrified
             Spanish foot soldiers accustomed to moving in tight groups, and eventually forced
             the Spaniards to withdraw to city garrisons.