The Miami Herald
May 2, 2001

At rally, Castro mocks Americas' trade plan, leaders

 Associated Press

 HAVANA -- Fidel Castro led hundreds of thousands of Cuban workers in a noisy May Day march outside the U.S. mission Tuesday and lambasted a hemisphere-wide trade agreement he said would bring Latin America more Disneylands but impoverish its people.

 ``No to annexation! Yes to plebiscite!'' the marchers chanted as the 74-year-old Cuban president, wearing an olive drab uniform and white athletic shoes, trekked almost two miles from Havana's Plaza of the Revolution to the American government's mission.

 Castro has condemned the hemispheric free trade zone as a U.S. ``annexation'' of Latin America and proposed that the region's population be able to vote in a plebiscite on whether to join. Castro was the region's only head of state not invited to a Quebec summit last month that agreed to create the zone by 2005.

 Castro railed against the plan as he addressed the mass of flag-waving Cubans in the plaza before the march began.

 Under the plan, he said, the United States will grow richer and control commerce and culture across the hemisphere, while Latin American nations will grow poorer,
 relegated to providing raw materials and cheap labor.

 ``How marvelous! Surely two or three Disneylands will be built in Central and South America!'' Castro said. ``Commerce will pass into North American hands, from the great commercial chains to pizza sales and McDonald's.''

 Castro also mocked the leaders of several countries that voted last month to censure Cuba for its human rights record.

 To the beat of Caribbean carnival music, Castro introduced the masses to a group of ``pygmy presidents'' -- seven life-sized puppets with satirical heads fashioned to look like President Bush and the heads of state of Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Guatemala and the Czech Republic.

 A Czech proposal to condemn Cuba, supported by the United States, was narrowly approved by the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva on April 18. The final vote was 22-20 in favor, with another 10 nations abstaining.

                                    © 2001