'Cuban issue' among topics of Latin summit
November 9, 1997
Web posted at: 11:48 p.m. EST (0448 GMT)
MARGARITA ISLAND, Venezuela (Reuters) -- Leaders from Latin
America, Spain and Portugal ended an annual summit on Sunday
that heard calls for stronger democratic values and found
room to accommodate Cuba's own brand of "true democracy."
As expected, the Seventh Ibero-American Summit of 19 Latin
American nations and their two former colonial rulers issued
pledges on a range of issues. They included promises to fight
against poverty, corruption and drug trafficking, work for
human rights and promote free and fair elections.
Also as predicted, Cuba's one-party system and its aging
leader Fidel Castro were targets of veiled criticism.
But diplomats who attended the two-day meeting on the
Caribbean island tourist resort of Margarita, just off the
Venezuelan coast, stressed that communist-ruled Cuba was no
longer a bone of contention at such regional forums.
"It's preferable to invite Cuba than to exclude it," host
Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera said.
He acknowledged however that "the Cuban issue is a constant
concern for Latin Americans and it was inevitable that in the
course of a free discussion it would reverberate."
Since the first Ibero-American summit in Mexico in 1991,
"these summits have matured a lot and Fidel (Castro) is
accepted on the basis of (political) pluralism," said
Colombian ambassador to Venezuela Mario Suarez Melo.
Ibero-American gatherings are the only international forums,
apart from the United Nations, attended by Cuba. The island
nation was suspended from the Organization of American States
The 71-year-old Castro, who looked weary and did not seem to
enjoy the spotlight as he usually does, hailed Cuba's
one-party rule that has been in place since the early 1960s.
In a brief speech on Saturday, he called it "a true
democracy, a government from the people and for the people,"
that produced more benefits than traditional Western-style
The only sharp differences of opinion came from Argentine
President Carlos Menem and Nicaragua's leader Arnoldo Aleman,
known for his fierce anti-communist stance.
"Democracy and rule of law are not possible in countries
where people are deprived of the rights to freely and
periodically elect their governing leaders," Aleman said.
The official theme of the summit was "The Ethical Values of
Democracy," a topic that sounded more likely to produce
rhetorical exchanges than far-reaching decisions.
But Chilean President Eduardo Frei said the summits formed
part of a long-term integration process. "They allow informal
exchanges of views which are very important," he said at a
joint news conference with Caldera.
Among the tangible diplomatic results was an invitation by
Colombian President Ernesto Samper to Castro to be a peace
broker in the region's longest-running guerrilla war.
Samper asked Cuba to join a group of four countries -- Costa
Rica, Mexico, Spain and Venezuela -- offering to help end
Colombia's three-decades-old struggle with Marxist and
Castro said he felt it his duty to help bring about peace
wherever he could, but Colombia's largest guerrilla group --
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) -- was
A FARC spokesman, while praising Castro as "still the beacon
of freedom in Latin America," said the FARC "has never
considered that a foreign power can direct the situation in