August 25, 2006

Castro not expected to host Non-Aligned summit

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba will hold a summit of 116
developing nations in two weeks, but the man who championed
their cause for decades, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, is not
expected to host the event.

Diplomats in Havana believe Castro is under doctors' orders
to stay in bed after intestinal surgery in late July and will
not be strong enough to meet 40 to 50 heads of state expected
for the meeting.

His younger brother, Raul Castro, Cuba's acting president
since July 31, will most likely stand in for him at the
September 11-16 summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, they said.

"He has been advised against attending. The doctors have
strongly recommended that he should not stress himself," said
an Asian diplomat, who asked not to be named.

Castro, who turned 80 on August 13, could make an
appearance at the summit if he felt well. But a thunderous
address by the ailing Cuban leader is not in the cards,
diplomats said.

"Who is going to be the face of Cuba at the summit? It has
to be Raul," a European diplomat said.

The summit was going to be a "Fidel fest," coming right
after his 80th birthday, the diplomat said.

Cuba will have to host the event without the iconic
presence of the bearded left-wing firebrand who put the island
of 11 million on the international map after his revolution in
1959, he said.

Castro ceded power to his brother temporarily after he
underwent emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding. Video
images and photos released on his birthday showed the bedridden
leader talking and joking with his main ally, populist
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

With the help of Venezuela and China, Cuba has pulled out
of the severe economic crisis it was thrown into by the 1991
demise of its international benefactor, the Soviet Union.

Chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement is an opportunity
for Cuba to resume an active international role. Cuban
officials say they want to give the organization new impetus.

The movement was set up in 1961 in Belgrade by Third World
nations who wanted to avoid being pawns in Cold War power games
by not aligning with either Washington or Moscow. But it has
struggled to find relevance since the Cold War ended.

Cuba hosted the Non-Aligned summit in Havana in 1979, but
its chairmanship was tarnished by support for the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan just three months after the meeting.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, plans to attend the
Havana meeting, as do Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

"The Non-Aligned Movement summit in Havana is like Fidel's
swan song," said Julia Sweig, director of the Cuba program at
the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank.

"In 1979, when he chaired the movement, Cuba was deeply
into liberation movements in Africa and very much the global
international voice of the South," she said.