Visa fears keep Castro away

World Trade talks
PRESIDENT FIDEL Castro of Cuba ended speculation yesterday about his attendance at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle, announcing he would not go because he believed that United States officials opposed the trip.

"I was certain that the State Department would not grant me the visa," Castro wrote to US Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington state. The government distributed a copy of the letter to foreign news agencies in Cuba yesterday.

"For that reason, I didn't even bother to apply," the communist leader continued. "I did not want to be submitted to that humiliation." In the letter President Castro makes it clear he had been intending to attend the WTO meeting but decided against because of moves byright-wing Cuban exiles living in the United States to seek his arrest.

The exiles claimed President Castro was responsible for the deaths of four Cuban exile pilots whose planes were shot down by a Cuban MiG fighter in February 1996.

"Without doubt, a plot was being planned against my trip to Seattle with the support of the Department of State," Mr Castro said in his letter. He said Felipe Perez, Cuba's foreign minister, would lead the Cuban delegation to the WTO meeting.

Mr Castro's last visit to the US was in 1995 when he attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York. (AP)