By David Clark Scott, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
CALL it the free-trade serenade.
Latin American presidents sang in unison for the first time at the Ibero-American Summit, a gathering here last week of leaders from 21 countries, including Spain and Portugal.
But it was the off-key, grey-bearded Cuban in the khaki uniform who garnered most of the press's attention.
While dictator Fidel Castro called the summit a "brilliant initiative" of "historic character," he derided the economic solutions being adopted by the rest of Latin America.
"There's always a new siren song," Mr. Castro said. He referred to past plans such as the "Alliance for Progress,The Baker Plan,The Brady Plan," and "The Initiative for the Americas" as fantasies.
But Castro's socialist dissonance was largely drowned out by affirmations of current political and economic trends.
"In Ibero-America, we've witnessed the transition from dictatorships to democracies.... The people have chosen democracy," said Costa Rican President Rafael Angel Calderon Fournier.
And Spain's Socialist President Felipe Gonzalez Marquez not too subtly put down Castro's leftist ideology. "We should leave it to the parliaments and the people to write their history and relegate the exploits of guerrillas to the imagination of novelists."
During the opening speeches when Argentine President Carlos Saul Menem praised President Bush's year-old initiative to create a hemispheric free-trade zone, Castro was visibly upset. At a break in the meeting, Castro was surrounded by reporters. At first jovial, when a reporter asked about free democratic elections in Cuba, the dictator abruptly walked away muttering about "interminable defamation."
The summit produced no new initiatives, no formal policy response to the Bush initiative. But the final declaration signed by all leaders (including Castro) commits them to:
* Fortify the democratic process.
* Support economic integration.
* Adopt mechanisms to promote and protect human rights.
* Cooperate in the fight against narcotics trafficking and demand that drug consuming countries intensify their efforts to reduce drug use.
* Seek solutions to environmental degradation, including rejecting technologies that pollute.
* Create an Ibero-American fund, with support from international groups, to aid indigenous peoples.
Based on Spain's experience in the European Common market, President Gonzalez said Latin America is developing the common base, and reaching "a democratic density" crucial for integration.
The summit also blunted criticism of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's plans for a free-trade pact with Canada and the United States. …