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
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
* 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