August 21, 1998

                  Seeking unity, Caribbean leaders discuss trade, aid, and Cuba

                  SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) -- Seeking strength
                  through unity, including their renewed ties with Cuba's Fidel Castro, leaders
                  from 16 Caribbean nations searched for ways Friday to bolster their
                  struggling economies.

                  At issue in the two-day Santo Domingo summit is how small Caribbean
                  nations can protect themselves from being swamped as the hemisphere
                  moves forward with negotiations to create a free trade zone from Canada to

                  One step will be Saturday's signing of a trade pact between the Caribbean
                  Community and the Dominican Republic. Another issue is Cuba.

                  The 15-member Caribbean Community has backed the communist nation's
                  request to join the Lome Convention, which grants $18 billion worth of
                  preferential trade tariffs and aid from the European Union to 71 former
                  European colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

                  They hope that Castro's eloquent arguments about the danger that global
                  trade poses to small-island economies will add muscle to their negotiations
                  with the European Union on a new Lome pact in 2000.

                  "Globalization is inevitable," Castro told the meeting on Friday. "The
                  Caribbean confronts the serious danger of a growing marginalization."

                  The Cuban leader called for promoting tourism in the region to help bolster
                  the economies.

                  Hemispheric leaders have set a 2005 target date for free trade in the

                  "We are still not in a position to make our economies resilient," warned
                  Suriname's president, Jules Wijdenbosch.

                  Most Caribbean nations only gained their political independence in recent
                  decades and are still struggling to diversify economies heavily dependent on
                  trade incentives for sugar, cotton and banana exports.

                  The Dominican economy also relies on agriculture to employ half its work
                  force. Cuba lost its leading market for sugar with the Soviet bloc's demise.

                  Caribbean leaders want Washington to drop its embargo of Cuba a nation
                  they say is essential to the region's future prospects.

                  "Cuba should ... be fully involved in the ongoing process," Wijdenbosch
                  said. The Caribbean Community says it has opted for "constructive
                  engagement" with Castro to promote human rights in Cuba.

                  Copyright 1998   The Associated Press.