Latin leaders to invite Castro to 2004 summit

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Mon May 26 01:21:25 MDT 2003

Posted on Sun, May. 25, 2003

Latin leaders will invite Castro to '04 summit

CUZCO, Peru - Cuban President Fidel Castro will be invited
to attend next year's Rio Group summit, Brazil's President
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced Saturday at the end of
the pro-democracy group's 17th conference.

''I confess. I see no reason for Cuba to be out of the Rio
Group,'' da Silva said. ``Since it was first created in
Brazil, I don't know why they have not been invited. We are
going to investigate that, and, next time, Cuba will be

The roots for the organization of Latin American presidents
began in 1983, with a handful of nations trying to bring
peace to Central America. It was formalized three years ago,
and its 17 conferences since then have stressed
strengthening democracy.

Cuba has been shunned from the Rio Group for years partly
because of its communist government, but more because the
group largely focuses on South American integration ssues.
In past Rio Group summits, the organization has ''expressed
profound concern'' for the situation in Cuba, but never
condemned Castro.

The big difference now is that next year, da Silva -- a
friend of Castro's -- will be president of the Rio Group and
Brazil will host the summit.

The move to invite Cuba is unlikely to make many waves in
Latin America, where Castro has friendly relationships with
the presidents of not just Brazil but Venezuela, Bolivia and
Peru. Cuba already participates in the Ibero-American
Summit, and even recently signed a pro-democracy

''It's not going to be controversial in Latin America; it'll
be controversial in Washington,'' said Eduardo Gamarra,
director of the Latin America and Caribbean Center at
Florida International University. ''Washington is going to
be angry at any attempt to incorporate Cuba to anything.''
But Gamarra said inviting Cuba could even open Castro up to
scrutiny and put the island on the global map.

Antonio Jorge, an expert on Cuba, said the invitation is
significant because the invitation by da Silva -- president
of the largest country in Latin America -- comes in the wake
of the harshest wave of repression in more than a decade
against government opponents on the island. Seventy-five
dissidents arrested in mid-March are serving prison
sentences of up to 28 years. Cuban authorities also executed
three men last month who hijacked a passenger ferry.

Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo closed the two-day
conference by emphasizing the ''concrete results,''
including a plan to raise international funding for highways
linking South American nations.

''The debate has been frank, intense and rich,'' Toledo

Herald staff writer Nancy San Martín contributed to this

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