The Miami Herald
August 23, 1998

             Caribbean leaders: U.S. failed to act in critical trade disputes

             By JUAN O. TAMAYO
             Herald Staff Writer

             SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Caribbean leaders wound up a
             three-day summit Saturday with a vote of support for Cuba and complaints of
             U.S. inaction in trade disputes over bananas and textiles.

             Cuban President Fidel Castro, an observer at the 15-member Caribbean Forum
             gathering, began a separate two-day visit to the host country later in the day for
             bilateral talks with Dominican President Leonel Fernandez and his Cabinet.

             Before the others flew home, the Caribbean heads of government issued a final
             declaration calling for a more united front in trade negotiations with Europe, the
             United States and Latin America.

             The declaration singled out Cuba, the region's biggest nation with 11 million people
             -- compared with a total of 14 million for all others -- as strengthening their bloc in
             the bartering with more powerful nations.

             ``Cuba's presence will considerably enhance our bargaining power,'' Fernandez
             said as he closed a summit marked by tight security measures because of reported
             plots to assassinate Castro.

             Summit officials said none of the leaders had raised the issue of Cuba's lack of
             democracy during the closed-door sessions, though several noted in general that
             democracy tends to help economic progress.

             The Caribbean leaders lashed out at the United States in their final declaration,
             noting their ``deep disappointment'' with Washington's lack of action on two trade
             issues critical to the region's small economies.

             Despite President Clinton's promise of help during a U.S.-Caribbean summit in
             Barbados last year, Washington has yet to grant Caribbean textiles the same
             breaks it gives Mexican imports under the North American Free Trade
             Agreement, the declaration said.

             Caribbean leaders are ``equally unhappy'' that U.S. vows to support marketing
             preferences for Caribbean-grown bananas have not been translated into action,
             the five-page statement said.

             But the government chiefs pronounced themselves satisfied with common
             strategies they forged as they gird for trade negotiations beginning next month with
             the European Union.

             Those talks are to replace the so-called Lome agreement, under which the EU
             provides trade preferences to former European colonies in the Caribbean, Africa
             and the Pacific. The pact expires next year.

             While the free trade movement gaining ground around the world will likely mean
             the end of such preferences, the final statement said, Caribbean nations want ``a
             reasonable period of transition'' that would give them time to make their economies
             more competitive.

             ``The transition must be neither radical nor sudden, but simply fast and in the right
             direction,'' Fernandez said.