The New York Times
August 21, 1998

          Castro Visits Dominican Republic

          By The Associated Press

          SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) -- For nearly four
          decades, Fidel Castro kept to one side of a sometimes-bitter ideological
          divide between his communist Cuba and a neighboring Dominican
          Republic dabbling in democracy.

          The walls of that divide fast crumbling, Castro said he felt right at home
          when he finally set foot on Dominican soil for the first time since becoming
          Cuba's leader in 1959.

          ``To be here in the Dominican Republic, I hardly believe it,'' he told
          Dominican President Leonel Fernandez on Thursday. ``It's been my
          lifelong dream.''

          Attending a 16-nation Caribbean summit starting today, Castro prepared
          to join another struggle -- of small island states fighting for economic
          survival in an era of increasingly global free trade.

          Castro alluded to that struggle as he recalled the strong cultural ties that
          historically wed Cuba and the Dominican Republic. ``We have done a lot
          together, but we must do a lot more together in the future,'' he declared.

          Cuba's economy has struggled since the collapse of its biggest trading
          partner, the Soviet-era Eastern bloc, and the continuation of the U.S.
          trade embargo.

          Other Caribbean states, meanwhile, have seen U.S. aid dwindle since the
          end of the Cold War -- from $200 million a year to $25 million last year
          -- and are fighting to maintain access in foreign markets for such exports
          as bananas, sugar and textiles.

          No longer fearing reprisals from Washington, Caribbean democracies are
          reaching out to Castro, hoping for some extra muscle in upcoming talks
          with European trading partners and on a proposed Free Trade Area of
          the Americas.

          At the summit, Castro will observe the signing of a trade agreement
          between the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean Community
          economic bloc, a combined economy of $30 billion that would rise to $40
          billion if Cuba were included. Cuba asked for a similar pact this year.

          Community officials said they hoped to nudge Castro toward democratic
          reforms as a step to closer relations.

          Castro, 72, planned to stay in the Dominican Republic for at least two
          days after the summit to get acquainted with a nation that restored full
          diplomatic ties with Havana in April after a 34-year hiatus.

          A series of U.S.-backed Dominican governments, however, shunned
          Castro, especially those of six-term conservative President Joaquin
          Balaguer. The centrist Fernandez, who succeeded Balaguer in 1996,
          enjoys strong U.S. ties but moved quickly to restore relations with

          Security was tight for the visit following several reported plots against the
          Cuban leader. Rifle-toting troops stood guard in many parts of Santo
          Domingo, and two navy patrol boats trolled off the seaside hotel hosting
          the summit.