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