Vatican says pope will meet Castro on Tuesday Cuban leader criticizes U.S. in food summit talk

November 17, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ROME -- Pope John Paul II will meet Fidel Castro on Tuesday, an encounter that could lead to a papal visit to Cuba, the Vatican announced yesterday.

Castro, whose departure for Rome was delayed by a storm in Cuba, finally arrived here early yesterday morning to make a speech to the World Food Summit. In his address, the 70-year-old leader went straight into high gear, blasting the gathering for failing to address the causes of world hunger, which he said are "capitalism, neo-liberalism, the laws of a wild market, the external debt, underdevelopment and conditions of inequality."

Castro used the forum to attack "absurd" economic blockades, a reference to the 34-year-old U.S. economic blockade against Cuba, which he said only compound hunger and misery.

"Where are the ethics, the justification, the respect for human rights?" the Cuban leader asked.

Even before his arrival, Castro's visit had set off a debate in Italy, particularly on the left of the political spectrum where, for many, the Cuban leader is still the romantic figure of the Cuban revolution.

For weeks now, photographs of a younger, more dashing Castro have been plastered along the walls of Rome, on posters welcoming him to town. The Cuban Embassy said it had vTC received 2,100 requests for interviews with Castro, while the far-left newspaper Il Manifesto last week inserted copies of Granma, Cuba's Communist Party-controlled newspaper, in its editions.

Opposition to the recent U.S. law that imposes sanctions on foreign companies that use U.S. property that was confiscated when the Communists came to power in Cuba is very strong in Italy, as it is across Europe.

But for the mainstream Italian left, mainly the Party of the Democratic Left, the remnants of the old Italian Communist Party and the largest party in the current coalition government, Castro is also a troublesome figure who represents a past that has become irrelevant in an increasingly non-ideological Europe.

Castro, who arrived in his usual military fatigues at 1: 30 a.m. accompanied by an entourage of 110 people, changed into a blue business suit for his appearance at the food conference.

Dogging his footsteps here will be a contingent of some 40 anti-Castro Cuban exiles, now living in the United States, who are trying to bring Italians' attention to human rights conditions in Cuba and to shake the romantic image of Castro held by many leftists.

"This has nothing to do with communism or the left, but with repression," said Maggie Alejandre Khuly, a sister of one of the Cuban-American pilots who were shot down by Cuban planes last February.

"I think it is hard for many Europeans to give up what is unquestionably the anti-American symbol of the world," she said. "There is certainly an ingrained support in Europe for that symbol, as there is in Latin America."

Pub Date: 11/17/96

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