August 22, 1998

                  Caribbean nations sign their own free-trade accord

                  SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) -- Caribbean nations
                  signed a trade pact doubling their market Saturday at a summit marked
                  by the overnight conversion of Fidel Castro from regional bogeyman to
                  elder statesman.

                  The 16-nation summit also illustrated growing antipathy toward the United
                  States, increasingly seen as neglecting the region on trade and aid issues
                  since the end of the Cold War.

                  The free trade accord will eventually remove most tariffs between the
                  Caribbean Community -- whose 15 nations have a population of 6 million --
                  and the Dominican Republic, with 8 million people.

                  It was timed to coincide with negotiations for a free trade zone
                  encompassing the entire Western Hemisphere by 2005.

                  The formerly insular Dominican Republic is trying to become a linchpin of the
                  Americas through its Hispanic culture, Caribbean location and ties to the
                  United States, where more than a million Dominicans live.

                  The ambitious Dominican president, Leonel Fernandez, has seized a leading
                  role in the unprecedented Caribbean embrace of Castro -- a once-avowed
                  enemy of Fernandez's more conservative predecessors.

                  Development must include Cuba

                  "We believe that the development of our region must include Cuba," said St.
                  Lucia Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, who signed the trade pact with
                  Fernandez on behalf of the Caribbean Community.

                  Castro, largely isolated from his neighbors since seizing power in 1959,
                  ended a triumphant tour three weeks ago that took him to Jamaica,
                  Barbados and Grenada.

                  His newfound acceptance results in part from Caribbean frustration with a
                  U.S. policy perceived as lacking leadership, vision and generosity --
                  reflected in a 25 percent drop in U.S. aid over five years, to $137 million
                  last year.

                  Cuba, meanwhile, has increased its donations to an estimated $20 million
                  and handed out hundreds of scholarships at Cuban universities.

                  A declaration from the leaders Saturday expressed "deep disappointment"
                  that the United States failed to make good on President Clinton's promises
                  to extend the same preferences for Caribbean textiles as those enjoyed by
                  Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

                  A challenge to U.S. embargo

                  The statement -- a clear challenge to the U.S. embargo of Cuba -- extended
                  a warm hand of friendship to Cuba and underscored "the significance of
                  (Castro's) participation at the summit."

                  It was read as Castro smiled from the head table.

                  Castro argued that the small island nations of the Caribbean must oppose the
                  unbridled capitalism he attributes to the United States.

                  "The Caribbean confronts the serious danger of a growing marginalization,"
                  he said Friday, calling on regional leaders to promote tourism to boost their
                  economies. "Unity is the sole and true strength of the Caribbean."

                  That struck a deep chord in a region where people fear the vagaries of a
                  global free market in which their small economies cannot compete. In
                  particular, Caribbean leaders are outraged at a successful U.S. legal
                  challenge to trade advantages their bananas enjoy in the European Union.

                  Caribbean leaders also want Washington to drop its embargo of Cuba,
                  arguing that "constructive engagement" with Castro is the best way to
                  promote human rights.

                     Copyright 1998   The Associated Press.