Castro, Chavez confer before leaving Caribbean summit
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Reuters) -- Latin America's
two most radical leaders -- Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of
Venezuela -- cemented their growing friendship with a lengthy private
meeting on Sunday before departing a Caribbean summit.
Passionate interventions from both
Castro and Chavez, who was four at the time of the 1959 Cuban
Revolution, enlivened an otherwise relatively sterile gathering of the
Association of Caribbean States (ACS) in the Dominican Republic.
"Great, as always" was how a beaming Chavez, 44, described his latest talks
with Castro at a seafront hotel in Santo Domingo. "Above all, we ratified the
strong will of Venezuela and Cuba to fight for the integration of the
Caribbean and Latin America."
Castro, 72, deliberately seeking a low profile at the summit and wearing
smart business suit instead of his trademark military fatigues, waved at
waiting reporters without comment after the meeting. On his way to the
airport, he paused briefly to greet a pocket of Dominican supporters
chanting "Solidarity with Cuba!" and "Long live Socialist Cuba!"
Heads of state from the more than 20 nations at the meeting, ranging from
tiny banana-dependent islands to major Latin American countries like
Mexico and Colombia, were heading home Sunday after the two-day
Castro, while uttering barely a word in public, and Chavez, courting the
media at every turn, dominated public attention at the second ACS summit.
The hemisphere's only communist leader, Castro, and the left-wing former
leader of a failed military coup, Chavez, both urged stronger action from
In a closed-door speech at the summit which was released to Cuban media
only, Castro presented an apocalyptic vision of the capitalist-dominated
world as "a gigantic casino" and criticised the World Trade Organisation
(WTO) as a "fearful instrument of recolonization and exploitation."
He called on Caribbean leaders to join together "to make claims, to
denounce things, to express the realities of the world we are living in."
Castro also criticised a recent WTO ruling which upheld a complaint by
United States and several Latin American nations that European Union
banana import regulations unfairly favoured former European colonies in the
Caribbean over Latin American banana producers, where U.S.
"This world is a gigantic casino, a chaos," he added in a familiar denunciation
of global capitalism.
In a stirring address late Saturday, Chavez challenged the leaders to put
words into action and get their peoples out of "terrible under-development."
"We go from summit to summit, but our peoples go from abyss to abyss,"
Chavez said. "We pray to God ... that the next century will be one of light
Chavez, who won the Venezuelan presidency last December through the
ballot-box after his military coup failed in 1994, noted that he had already
attended six international summits since taking power in February.
Excusing himself as a "novice" and a dreamer, Chavez also presented to
fellow leaders a vision of a future, united continent with full political
integration and "a vast Congress of the Americas" based in Panama.
Chavez, who is seeking at home to create a Constituent Assembly that
would dissolve Congress and rewrite the Constitution, also explained his
self-styled "peaceful revolution" in Venezuela. "The Venezuelan people were
dead ... now they rise up from the ashes," he said.
The leaders signed at the summit's end the Declaration of Santo Domingo
which pledged greater commercial and political unity into the 21st century.
Among the most important elements were an agreement to cooperate better
against natural disasters such as Hurricanes Mitch and Georges, which took
thousands of lives and set economies back years throughout the region in
The ACS declaration also protested Western nations' use of the Caribbean
sea to transport nuclear and toxic waste, and condemned the U.S. economic
embargo on communist-run Cuba.
One of the ACS' chief long-term aims is to create among its 25 member
states what would be the world's fourth-largest trading bloc, consisting of
200 million people and a combined gross domestic product of $500 billion.