Castro seeks talks with Washington

CARTAGENA (Reuter, AFP) - Cuba's President Fidel Castro, on a surprise visit to Colombia, said Cuba should discuss its differences with the United States and that any gesture that helped improve relations with Washington was welcome.

Amid growing media speculation that Colombian President Cesar Gaviria might be acting as an intermediary to persuade the veteran Communist leader of the need for political and economic changes in return for US concessions, Mr Castro said his priority was to get Washington to lift its ban on trade with Cuba.

'I think that in essence we should discuss any difference between the US and Cuba,' Mr Castro said in a television interview. 'We will always thank . . . every effort that is made to persuade the United States that it should end its profane, unjust and criminal blockade.'

Mr Castro said he was prepared to open almost all sectors of the economy to foreign investment. 'Where we need investments and technology, we are ready to open up,' he said, adding, however, that some sectors of national importance would remain closed.

But Mr Castro dashed hopes that he might radically reform Cuba's Communist politics or economy, describing capitalism as a failed ideology that condemned the Earth to poverty, pollution and misery.

The Cuban leader, winding up a two-day private visit to this Caribbean port, told reporters he would never abandon his lifelong commitment to Communism or to his country. 'I want my bones to rest there because as long as I can move I will never abandon my cause or my homeland, and if I could walk after death I would never leave my land or my country,' Mr Castro declared at a news conference.

Asked why he clung so stubbornly to ideas that most of the rest of the world has rejected, Mr Castro was unrepentant. 'If stubborn means being ready to fight to the last drop of blood and the last breath to defend your ideas, to defend the homeland and the revolution . . . this is the only explanation I would have for why people receive me well,' he said.

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