- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

From combined dispatches
MONTERREY, Mexico Cuban President Fidel Castro has walked out of the U.N. aid summit in Mexico in a huff, apparently upset at being uninvited to group events that President Bush planned to attend.
Mr. Castro attacked the West's aid policies in a fiery speech Thursday morning and then told the more than 50 heads of state present that a "special situation" was forcing him to return to Cuba immediately.
"I beg you all to excuse me since I am not able to continue in your company due to a special situation created by my participation in this summit, and I am obliged to return immediately to my country," Mr. Castro said.
Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba's national assembly, refused to give a detailed explanation of why Mr. Castro left, but said Mr. Bush had made it clear that he does not want to meet Mr. Castro.
"It is his problem, and it is up to his psychiatrist to help him deal with it," Mr. Alarcon said scathingly.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman from the Carter Center in Atlanta, announced that former President Jimmy Carter is planning a landmark visit to Cuba.
The visit is sure to focus on criticism of the 41-year-old U.S. economic embargo on Havana.
"He has been invited, but as far as specific dates, we don't have them," spokeswoman Kay Torrance said.
Mr. Carter told CNN yesterday: "I think the best way to bring about democratic changes in Cuba is obviously to have maximum commerce and trade, and visitation by Americans and others who know freedom, and to let the Cuban people know the advantages of freedom … and not to punish the Cuban people themselves by imposing an embargo on them, which makes Castro seem to be a hero because he is defending his own people against the 'abusive Americans.'"
"When I was president, I departed from my predecessors and, unfortunately, my successors in lifting all travel restraints on American citizens to go to Cuba … and I also established interests sections, which is one step short of full diplomatic relations," Mr. Carter noted.
The Cuban president flew home Thursday afternoon, leaving Mexican soil shortly after Mr. Bush arrived in the northern city of Monterrey to attend the U.N. summit. Their motorcades reportedly crossed close to the airport.
"There is no question that, in the final analysis, it had to do with the United States," Mr. Alarcon said.
The comments fueled speculation that Mr. Castro felt pressured to leave the summit by the time Mr. Bush arrived because he would have been excluded from any group events that Mr. Bush planned to attend.
Mr. Castro's communist government has faced a U.S. economic embargo spanning four decades, and Mr. Bush's administration does not intend to ease up.
U.S. and Mexican officials say Mr. Castro was always expected to leave ahead of Mr. Bush's arrival.
"We knew all along his visit would not overlap with Bush," a U.S. official said. "But when he arrived here, he cut his trip even shorter. The question is, why did he do so?"
Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda insisted that U.S. officials put no pressure on Mexico, the summit meeting's host, and that Mexico at no point asked Mr. Castro to leave early.


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