Cuba Insists Bush Behind Castro's
Hasty Summit Exit
By Kieran Murray

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - Cuba accused President Bush on Friday of threatening to boycott this week's U.N. aid summit in Mexico unless Cuban President Fidel Castro was made to leave, but Bush insisted he didn't pressure anybody.
Castro abandoned the summit meeting in Mexico's northern city of Monterrey on Thursday, shortly before Bush arrived, and a senior Cuban official said the communist leader was asked by Mexican officials to make himself scarce.
"We received very senior people from the Mexican government before the conference who indicated they had been subjected to U.S. government pressure, specifically threats from President Bush that he would not come to Monterrey if Fidel Castro came," said Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's national assembly.
Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox, the summit host, both denied the allegations but the dispute threatened to end a recent easing in U.S.-Cuban tensions and hit Cuba's long-standing friendship with Mexico.
Asked at a joint news conference with Fox whether he would have felt uncomfortable meeting Castro, Bush responded that what made him uncomfortable about the Cuban leader was "the way he treats his people."
"I know of no pressure placed on anybody. Fidel Castro can do what he wants to do," he said.
Asked "who's lying here?" by a second reporter, a visibly annoyed Bush snapped: "I thought I answered that question."
Fox said of Castro: "He participated in the conference and returned to Cuba. Nothing more."
Alarcon, who took over as head of Cuba's summit delegation when Castro walked out on Thursday, said the veteran leader refused to stay away from the conference altogether but agreed to cut short his trip, leaving after his speech and before Bush arrived.
Mexican officials "with great authority transmitted the message and specifically asked us, given they could not prevent Fidel from coming, that he leave immediately after lunch," Alarcon said.
Mexico has been a close ally of Castro's government since he took power in 1959 but relations have been strained in recent years as Mexico has moved closer economically and politically to the United States.
The latest dispute has largely overshadowed the summit meeting and some officials here have privately suggested that may have been Castro's intention all along.
"The presence of Fidel in the summit has been a highly important event, which in diplomatic terms means he stole the show," Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told Cuban state TV in a telephone interview from Monterrey.
Cuban state TV and radio have played Castro's speech over and over again, and a special two-part program on the "repercussions" of his presence in Monterrey was shown on Thursday and Friday evenings.
President Vicente Fox's government has offended Cuba by criticizing it over human rights and democracy issues.
The five-day U.N. development conference, attended by more than 50 heads of state in the final two days, ended late on Friday with rich and poor nations saying they had struck a new bargain to fight world poverty.
"We must tie greater aid to political and legal and economic reforms," Bush told the conference on Friday morning.
Castro ridiculed the rich world's efforts to fight poverty during his speech on Thursday, saying they were masters of a "genocidal" system that condemns billions to misery.
"The existing world economic order constitutes a system of plundering and exploitation like no other in history," he said. Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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