Archive for Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fidel a no-show at Nonaligned summit

September 16, 2006

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— Cuba took over leadership of the Nonaligned Movement on Friday, but with Fidel Castro too sick to promise an appearance, his younger brother and his close friend Hugo Chavez, of Venezuela, were left to mete out the anti-American invective.

The meeting hosted by Cuba brought together some of the staunchest U.S. foes: the presidents of Iran, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

Cuba's Acting President Raul Castro, who was presiding over the meeting of more than 50 leaders, said the world today is shaped by irrational American desires for world dominance.

"When there no longer is a Cold War, the United States spends $1 billion a year in weapons and soldiers and it squanders a similar amount in commercial publicity," he said. "To think that a social and economic order that has proven unsustainable could be maintained by force is simply an absurd idea."

In the United States, President Bush's administration tried Friday to hasten the end of the Castro government, proposing that Cubans have a referendum to decide if they want to be ruled by Raul Castro. The suggestion faced certain rejection by the island's communist leadership, but they did not immediately address it at the summit.

The big question was whether 80-year-old Fidel Castro would be healthy enough to show up for the summit dinner, let alone guide the group during Cuba's three-year chairmanship. The ailing revolutionary leader is under doctors' orders not to preside over the summit but could make a later visit, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said.

Castro temporarily handed power to his 75-year-old brother and a handful of other top officials after emergency intestinal surgery in July. And while Cuban officials raise expectations of a return to power, Fidel has appeared only in photos and video in state media, wearing pajamas while meeting Venezuelan President Chavez and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Annan told the group the world has changed dramatically since Cuba last hosted the movement in Havana 27 years ago, and that developing nations have new responsibilities to promote democracy, protect human rights and develop civil societies.

"The collective mission of this movement is more relevant than ever," Annan said.

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