Latin summit stirred but not shaken by Fidel: Cuba accepts a watered-down resolution backing its stand against US embargo

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The Independent Online
TO ENSURE he was not poisoned by any of his enemies, Fidel Castro brought his own drinking water to this week's summit of Ibero-American nations in the Brazilian city of Salvador de Bahia. As the summit wound down last night - there was little sign it ever really got wound up - the Cuban leader looked like leaving with a highly watered-down resolution condemning the crippling US embargo on his Caribbean island.

Faced with varying degrees of criticism from the other Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking nations taking part, Mr Castro was probably content to have come away with any glimmer of support at all. But the reference to the embargo which was being drafted for the final communique last night looked like being a masterpiece of diplomatic face- saving even by Latin standards.

'The participants take note of recent resolutions in international forums referring to the necessity of eliminating the unilateral application by any state, for political ends, of economic or commercial measures against another state'. This version looked like entering the history books. No mention of Cuba or the US - Argentina's Carlos Menem was the leading spoilsport on that score - but at least it suggested that the Ibero- American government chiefs read the papers.

As expected, Mr Castro stole the show in the north-eastern Brazilian city, even from the guests of honour, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain. While the Spanish royals appeared happy enough with the fare in the Othon Bathia hotel, the bearded Communist leader, as always, shipped in everything he consumed, from the water to his own salt.

'All they asked us for was a cooking stove,' a hotel executive told the Spanish news agency, Efe.

Hotel staff said each cartload of Mr Castro's food, drinks and other necessities was guarded by a bunch of hefty Cuban security men, glancing around furtively in the style of those secret service men who surround American presidents.

Such was the Brazilian military presence aimed at ensuring the participants' security that many locals, expressing total lack of interest in the summit, feared recent rumours of a coup against the beleaguered Brazilian President, Itamar Franco, had come true. There were anti- aircraft guns on roofs, warships in the bay and machine-guns pointed even at the city's favela (slums).

Journalists described the organisation of the conference as tercermundista (third worldish), in sharp contrast to the sleek United Nations environment conference hosted last year by the since-ousted president, Fernando Collor de Mello.