Friday, July 21, 2006

Castro lands for Mercosur summit

Castro lands for Mercosur summit

Cuban President Fidel Castro has arrived in Argentina for a meeting of
the regional trade pact, Mercosur.

Mr Castro, who turns 80 in August and has rarely been seen in public in
recent months, arrived in Cordoba late on Thursday wearing a military

Critics say that his infrequent public appearances are a sign of failing
health, but Cuban officials deny this.

Mr Castro met Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, a new member of Mercosur,
shortly after arriving in Argentina.

Cuba is not a member of Mercosur, but reports say Mr Castro will sign a
trade agreement with the bloc.

Associate members

Venezuela's admission to Mercosur is set to dominate the agenda at the

Mr Chavez has said he hopes to carry his populist social agenda into
membership of Mercosur.

His presence in Cordoba, alongside that of Bolivian President Evo
Morales and Mr Castro, is expected to liven up the summit.

"Mercosur has to take up the banner of the struggle against social
inequalities, against poverty, against misery, against unemployment, the
struggle to satisfy the needs of the people," the Associated Press
reported him as saying.


Among the issues are a high-profile dispute between Argentina and
Uruguay over proposals to build a paper mill near the border of the two
countries which has been heard at the International Court of Justice at
The Hague.

Earlier this month, the court backed Uruguay's plans to build the mill
near an Argentine river. Argentina has voiced concerns about the
potential environmental costs of the venture.

Bolivia wants to talk to Chile about access to the sea while another
lively meeting will involve Mr Chavez and the outgoing Peruvian
president, Alejandro Toledo, who have been hurling insults at one another.

A planned transcontinental oil and gas pipeline and the price of
Bolivian gas are also on the agenda.

Cordoba was once the home of the Argentine revolutionary, and Fidel
Castro's comrade-in-arms, Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Last month, Uruguay's president Tabare Vazquez criticised Mercosur -
which was founded in 1991 - saying it did not work in its current form
and only benefited Argentina and Brazil.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/07/21 07:34:08 GMT

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