Poverty breeds terrorism, leaders warn

2-day U.N. conference begins as Castro leaves ahead of Bush's arrival

March 22, 2002|By COX NEWS SERVICE

MONTERREY, Mexico - President Bush and more than 50 world leaders began meeting yesterday to affirm what many hail as a historic global commitment to boost aid to poor countries, spur freer trade and cut world poverty by more than half by 2015.

The leaders' two-day assembly got off to a tumultuous start when Cuban President Fidel Castro - speaking before Bush's arrival - lambasted rich countries for plundering poor nations. He then left Mexico, implying that he was not welcome at the United Nations International Conference on Financing for Development.

Before arriving in Monterrey, Bush stopped in El Paso, Texas, and said he and Mexican President Vicente Fox would announce a joint plan today to enhance security at the U.S.-Mexico border without harming trade.

During a parade of speeches inside a cavernous assembly hall, some of the presidents and others warned that growing poverty around the world could create a breeding ground for terrorism.

"Global security is closely tied to the health of the world economy. Insecurity and the sinister role that terrorism plays must be confronted," said Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, who was forced to leave the conference early after a car bomb explosion killed nine people in front of the U.S. Embassy in Lima.

After dining yesterday with world leaders and meeting privately with Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Bush is scheduled to address the U.N. conference today.

All the presidents will meet at a private retreat and then Fox and Bush will meet privately to talk about issues key to U.S.-Mexico relations, including the border, trade, drug trafficking, illegal immigration and a dispute between the two countries over water rights along the Rio Grande.

The new joint border security plan, which follows a similar agreement in December with Canada, aims to employ new technology at the border to better and more quickly identify those crossing, while avoiding delays in commercial traffic.

"On the one hand, we want the legal commerce," Bush said in El Paso. "On the other hand, we want to use our technology to make sure we weed out those who we don't want in our country - the terrorists, the coyotes, the smugglers, those who prey on innocent life."

Bush has proposed about $11 billion for increased border security, including $380 million for the Immigration and Naturalization Service to develop swifter and better systems for identifying and accommodating those crossing the border.

At the conference, Castro stirred the atmosphere and prompted some applause from U.N. delegates when he called "the existing world order" a "system of plundering and exploitation like no other in history."

Castro doubted the promises world leaders from all continents are making to reduce poverty. "People believe less and less in statements and promises," he said.

"Poor countries should not be blamed for this tragedy" of world poverty, the Communist leader said. "They neither conquered nor plundered entire continents for centuries. They did not establish colonialism or re-establish slavery or make modern imperialism."

Castro told the presidents he was returning to Cuba because of a "special situation created by my participation in this summit." He didn't elaborate. But speculation ranged from rumors he was pressured by some leaders to leave to the possibility he was offended by the Bush administration's clear hostility toward him.

Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda said Mexico, which has begun to criticize Cuba for human rights abuses, didn't ask Castro to leave.

In another speech that cast doubt on the world leaders' commitment to meet goals to reduce poverty, Venezuelan President Huge Chavez also lashed out at wealthy countries.

"What kind of development are we talking about?" he said. He said austerity conditions imposed by international lending institutions like the International Monetary Fund have wreaked havoc in some poor countries by causing social unrest.

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