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Kabila Visit Exemplifies Opening of Cuba

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cuban President Fidel Castro wore his trademark military fatigues and Congolese President Laurent Kabila sported a tropical shirt decorated with pictures of bank notes as the African leader ended a three-day visit here Saturday that underscored Cuba’s expanding relations with former friends and new allies.

Kabila left Havana with a group of Cuban doctors, who work under government contract in many foreign countries, and an array of new agreements for technical cooperation in agriculture, tourism and other fields.

Kabila’s visit came 33 years after Castro sent two columns of Cuban guerrillas, one of them led by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, to aid Kabila’s insurgency in the Congo. That rebellion ended in bitter failure, and Guevara later sharply criticized Kabila for lack of leadership skills and poor discipline among his forces.

Last year, Kabila finally triumphed, taking power in what was then Zaire after an eight-month rebellion that overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko. Relations since then have gradually warmed between Cuba and Congo.

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Castro’s renewed friendship with Kabila is among the more notable of Cuba’s foreign policy moves in the six months since Pope John Paul II’s visit, when the pontiff called on Cuba to open to the world--and the world to open to Cuba.

More moves are in store in the weeks ahead.

Castro is scheduled to leave this week to tour the Caribbean nations of Jamaica, Barbados and Grenada. He also plans an eight-day visit to the Dominican Republic in late August that will include a summit of Caribbean leaders.

It will be the Cuban leader’s first official visit to the Dominican Republic since his revolution overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. That revolution led to a punishing U.S. trade embargo of Cuba and a now-flagging U.S. policy to isolate the island.

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Castro’s tour is part of an emerging, post-Cold War alliance in the Caribbean that rejects U.S. policy toward Cuba. In recent months, the Dominican Republic renewed full diplomatic relations with Havana, several other Caribbean nations signed cooperation agreements with the Castro government, and several neighboring prime ministers visited the island.

Castro’s two-day visit to Grenada will carry at least as much historical resonance as Kabila’s visit here and has triggered debate among Grenada’s politicians and analysts.

U.S. forces invaded Grenada in 1983 after the island nation’s socialist prime minister, Maurice Bishop, formed a strong alliance with Castro. Bishop headed Grenada’s leftist regime from 1979 to 1983 and was assassinated by his former allies six days before the invasion. Grenadian critics of the upcoming Castro visit have called it an insult to the 18 U.S. soldiers who died in three days of fighting.

One former critic of Castro’s regime, Grenadian Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, says times have changed.

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In announcing the state visit that will include Castro’s address at a rally and a personal call on Bishop’s mother, Mitchell said: “This is a new era in terms of the developing global village. For us in the Caribbean, Cuba has a tremendous role to play in the development of the region.”


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