Cuban President Fidel Castro convened hundreds of delegates here Tuesday for a “continental dialogue” on Latin America’s foreign debt, a five-day meeting that has the makings of an earnest but tedious talkathon.
What gives it a crackle of electricity, a hint of daring and danger, is Castro’s latest pet project. He is campaigning for a foreign debt revolt among Latin American and Caribbean countries.
In a recent spate of speeches, press conferences and interviews, Castro has urged the countries of the region to collectively stop payment on their combined foreign debts of more than $360 billion.
The meeting’s participants, invited by Castro, are predominantly but not exclusively leftist. They include politicians, academics, churchmen, labor leaders, economists, professionals, intellectuals and others.
The list of more than 1,000 delegates from 17 countries is sprinkled with names that are familiar in Latin America, such as novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Colombia and former President Walter Guevara Arze of Bolivia. But there are no current government leaders and few people with direct influence over official debt policy.
No Latin American government has endorsed Castro’s proposal to repudiate the foreign debt, and some have rejected it. The governments of Brazil and Mexico, the two countries with the biggest foreign debts, dismissed the idea last week as politically undesirable and financially irresponsible.
Castro’s campaign is aimed as much at influencing public opinion as government policy in Latin America. He has emphasized the non-payment theme at recent conventions in Havana of Latin American labor organizations, women’s groups and journalists.
The Cuban leader argues that the huge outlays required to service the foreign debt are locking Latin Americans into hopeless poverty.
A massive repudiation of Latin America’s foreign debt would create a crisis in American banks, which hold much of the paper on the outstanding loans.
Some analysts here think that Castro’s real goal may be to whip up just enough of a debt revolt in the region to put its governments into position for demanding better credit terms.