From NY-Transfer-News@abbie.blythe.org Fri Nov 17 10:19:58 2000
Castro: Support Helped Cuba Survive
By Anita Snow, AP, Wednesday November 15 1:22 AM ET
HAVANA (AP) - Cuban President Fidel Castro told thousands of enthusiastic sympathizers from around the globe that their support helped his country survive the decade following the collapse of socialism in Europe and breakup of the Soviet Union.
`More than friends, you are brothers and sisters in solidarity," Castro told more than 4,000 foreign supporters of the Cuban Revolution as they wrapped up a five-day gathering late Tuesday.
`Sure, it is easy to die," Castro said, referring to predictions that his socialist regime would not survive the loss of its former East Bloc trading partners. It is much harder `not only to a launch a battle, but to win it," he said.
`We have been launching and winning the battle," Castro said during a late-night speech at the Karl Marx theater that was punctuated by shouts of `Fidel! Fidel!"
Throughout the 1990s, Cuba struggled financially to become independent after losing about 40 percent of its aid and trade almost overnight.
The country of more than 11 million people lived through blackouts of up to 16 hours a day to save on energy. Food shortages were common. Oxen replaced petroleum-powered tractors in the fields. Bicycles replaced cars as transportation.
`In those dark moments, you were with us," the 74-year-old Castro said.
The foreigners from about 120 countries gathered in Havana for the World Encounter of Friendship and Solidarity with Cuba. They joined Castro outside the U.S. Interests Section earlier Tuesday to protest the 40-year-old American trade sanctions against the communist island.
The sanctions were a constant theme during the meeting.
`If solidarity brought down apartheid, it can bring down the blockade!" Rosamary Janches of South Africa declared Tuesday morning to the cheers of other Cuba sympathizers. Americans at the gathering carried a sign that read: `End to the U.S. Blockade on Cuba - Now."
Flags from Brazil, the African National Congress, New Zealand and other countries and organizations fluttered amid a sea of Cuban flags during the protest outside the American mission.
With loudspeakers blaring Cuba's folk song `Guantanamera" and a popular ode to revolutionary icon Ernesto `Che" Guevara, the event at times seemed more like a giant block party than a protest. Daniel Ortega, the former Nicaraguan guerrilla leader and president, was among the best-known protesters.
During his address to the group late in the evening, Castro launched into a criticism of the world economy. He blamed financial speculation, privatization, foreign debt and financial requirements imposed by lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund for the economic woes of many other Latin American nations.
While Venezuela earlier privatized many of its state enterprises, Castro said he was sure that the nation's rich petroleum reserves will remain under government control during the administration of President Hugo Chavez.
Castro counts Chavez as a personal friend and political ally. The Cuban leader recently returned from Venezuela, where Chavez agreed to sell oil with preferential financial conditions to 10 Central American and Caribbean countries, including Cuba.
`As long as there are men like President Chavez and the movement he leads, no one can dream that the riches of this country will be surrendered," Castro said to a burst of applause.