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Posted October 10, 2005 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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The Spanish government is preparing itself for a rare appearance by Cuban leader Fidel Castro at a summit here this week.

Castro, 79, who rarely travels any great distances, has been invited to the 15th Iberoamerican Summit in the western city of Salamanca on October 14-15 along with leaders and heads of state of Spanish and Portuguese speaking nations from Europe and Latin America.

“As far as we know, everybody is coming,” Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said.

It was not clear whether Guatemala and El Salvador would send high-level delegates in the wake of the effects of hurricane Stan.

“Up until today, no hotel reservations have been canceled,” a government spokesman said.

The hotel reservation requirement for the Cuban delegation is nearly twice the normal number of rooms when the Cuban leader travels with it, and so far the booking is for the full amount, the spokesman said, indicating that it was likely Castro would attend.

The prospect of a meeting between Castro and his close ally, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez at the summit has caused Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government some concern, according to press reports on Sunday.

“Zapatero fears the effect of Castro and Chavez at the Salamanca summit,” the newspaper El Pais said.

Though government officials played down the potential consequences of a meeting between Castro and the Venezuelan leader, there was some concern that media attention might be diverted away from core summit issues by the controversy-prone duo.

“We’ve held 14 summits so far and want this, the 15th, to tackle serious issues,” the spokesman said.

El Pais said that Castro and Chavez could use the summit to seek support for their stance on the Posada case. Luis Posada Carriles, a vehement anti-Castro Cuban militant is wanted by Cuban and Venezuelan courts.

Posada, a naturalized Venezuelan and one-time CIA operative, is accused of masterminding from Caracas a bombing in which a Cubana Airlines plane traveling from Barbados to Havana exploded in the air on October 6, 1976. He has denied involvement.

A Venezuelan military court tried and acquitted Posada of the bombing, but the decision was later overturned and a civilian court case convened.

Posada then escaped from a Venezuelan jail in 1985 before the civilian trial was completed, reportedly paying a $28,600 bribe to secure escape.

Tackling Cuba’s human rights position is another diplomatically difficult area for Zapatero’s government if the Cuban leader arrives.

“Human rights will definitely be discussed and will be included in the final declaration,” Fernandez de la Vega said.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was expected to visit the summit as a special guest.

Around 100 business leaders were expected to attend meetings on the fringe of the summit to discuss how to improve trading conditions and prosperity in the areas represented.

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