November 24, 2001

Less dramatic Ibero-American summit likely without Castro

                 HAVANA, Cuba (AP) -- Cuban President Fidel Castro, long accustomed to
                 stealing the spotlight at the annual Ibero-American summit, didn't attend
                 for the first time in the gathering's 10-year history.

                 Castro skipped the meeting of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking leaders, which
                 opened Friday in Lima, Peru, because of ongoing reconstruction efforts after
                 Hurricane Michelle. The storm devastated central Cuba on November 4.

                 "I express my deepest solidarity to President Castro and the Cuban people,"
                 Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo told the opening session of the summit Friday
                 evening. He said Castro had sent his regrets in a letter.

                 Because of his legendary status, Castro's attendance at the summit has never failed
                 to draw attention and spark speculation. The 75-year-old leader is known for
                 making lengthy speeches, arriving amid much secrecy and symbolically changing
                 his dress from his usual olive green military uniform to a dark suit or a tropical
                 guayabera shirt.

                 Last year, upon arrival at the meeting in Panama, Castro immediately held a news
                 conference to announce that Cuban exiles in the country were plotting to
                 assassinate him.

                 The announcement was quickly followed by the arrest in Panama of Castro's old
                 nemesis, Luis Posada Carriles, whom the Cuban leader blames for numerous
                 terrorist acts against the island.

                 Posada, 72, is accused by Cuba of organizing the bombing of a Cubana de Aviacion
                 jet that exploded off the coast of Barbados on Oct. 6, 1976. He escaped from
                 prison in Venezuela before his case was tried and is now behind held in Panama on
                 charges related to the alleged assassination plot.

                 Castro's arrival at the first Ibero-American summit i n July 1991 in Guadalajara,
                 Mexico, came as the Soviet bloc was crumbling and new, democratically elected
                 Latin American leaders were taking power.

                 At that first gathering, other heads of state called on Castro to start making changes
                 at home. The following year, in Spain, speculation about Castro's future was
                 rampant as the communist country began feeling the economic effects of the loss
                 of Soviet aid and trade.

                 In 1993, Castro surprised fellow heads of state by joining their calls for insurgent
                 groups to renounce armed struggle, and then by donning a white guayabera shirt
                 instead of his military fatigues.

                 In Oporto, Portugal, in 1998, all eyes were on Castro again when news broke that
                 former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet had been detained in London on human
                 rights charges. Castro said that while the case seemed to be morally just, it was
                 legally problematic.

                 Last year, Castro caused a stir with his spirited debate over a proposed resolution to
                 condemn terrorism by Basque separatists in Spain.

                 Castro refused to sign the resolution, saying that it should have been broadened to
                 include all acts of terrorism. Castro has long complained that other nations should
                 take more seriously the terrorist acts committed against his country.

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.