Castro speaks with Congressional Black Caucus

jonathan flanders jon_flanders at
Sun Jun 4 19:59:34 MDT 2000

   Castro Sees Embargo Support Eroding

Updated 12:12 PM ET June 4, 2000
By PAUL SHEPARD, Associated Press Writer
HAVANA (AP) - Fidel Castro said Sunday support for the 38-year-old trade
embargo against Cuba was beginning to "wear down" as American business
seeks new markets.

In a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Castro also
suggested Cuba could extend a free medical training program to poor
American students who would return home to practice in poor regions.

He also voiced support for the work of black members of Congress but said
he was disenchanted with elected politics in general and American
presidential politics in particular.

Castro, 73, who has ruled his island nation for 41 years, said he found
hope in recent congressional moves to lift restrictions on U.S. sales of
food and medicine to Cuba.

The House is expected to debate an agricultural bill this week to license
food and medicine sales to Cuba as long as the sales are not subsidized by
the federal government.

The caucus, 36 voting black House members, long has supported lifting the
trade sanctions. In recent months, some Republicans and business groups
have joined them in seeking to open new markets. The vice president of the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce visited last week.

"It's interesting that some people on the other side of the aisle are
looking at ending the blockade," Castro told the lawmakers through an
interpreter. "I find that very significant. I suppose that sometimes some
issues wear down. It is a positive."

On the 2000 presidential campaign, Castro said: "I really disagree with
both candidates for president." Then he joked: "I'm going to be among the
50 percent of Americans who will go fishing on Election Day."

The medical training offer came after Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said
parts of his Mississippi Delta district have so few medical personnel and
facilities that its infant mortality rate is second in the United States,
behind Washington, D.C.

Castro already had told the representatives about Cuba's program of sending
doctors to poor areas around the Caribbean and in Africa. He suggested a
new project to provide free medical training to 10 to 12 American students.

"It would be hard for your government to oppose such a program," Castro
said. "It would be a trial for them. Morally, how could they refuse?"

Thompson said he liked the idea and would study it.

Wearing his trademark olive green uniform, Castro spoke extemporaneously on
a wide range of subjects into the early hours of Sunday.

He expressed gratitude to the black caucus for supporting the return to
Cuba of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez.

"We are aware the Congressional Black Caucus has shown great interest in
Elian's case. His grandmothers said they were impressed with the attention
they were given by the C.B.C. during their visit to the United States,"
Castro said. "We wish to have more contacts with the Congressional Black
Caucus on other issues."

As talk turned to world politics, Castro seemed to despair, saying he
doubts the current crop of world leaders offers much hope for finding
solutions to crushing global issues such as the spread of AIDS.

"I've talked to thousands of Latin American politicians and European
politicians and American politicians, and I'm always amazed at the amount
of nonsense they speak," he said. "I'm also amazed at the numbers who seem
to believe the nonsense they are speaking."

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the black caucus, invited a Cuban
delegation, including Castro, to attend the caucus' annual legislative
conference in September in Washington.

Castro said he doubts he could get a visa, but Clyburn said he would try to
get an exemption for the Cubans under a cultural exchange provision in
current international travel law.

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