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Castro Meets Exiles Who Once Tried to Overthrow Him

April 25, 1994

HAVANA, Cuba (AP) _ President Fidel Castro mingled over canapes with men who once tried to overthrow him.

The cordial gathering late Sunday at Castro’s official residence on the Plaza of the Revolution capped a conference designed to improve relations between exiles and the Cuban government.

It included former members of organizations that once mounted attacks against the Communist island, along with longtime supporters of closer U.S.-Cuban ties.

Officials insisted the meeting was meant to begin healing the rift between Cubans, not to seek dollars from Cubans abroad nor divide Cuban-Americans. Exile dollars already rival tourism as a major source of income here.

About 225 exiles, more than 150 from the United States, attended the three- day conference, the first meeting since 1978 between exiled Cubans, who have bitterly opposed Castro’s government for 35 years, and Cuban officials.

Asked what he would have done in a meeting with Castro 20 years ago, Luis Tornes, a veteran of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion grinned.

″Why don’t you ask what he would have done 20 years ago? He would have killed me,″ said Tornes, 70, who noted it was his first face-to-face meeting with Castro.

Rafael Huguet, who fought alongside Castro against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista but later fought Castro because of the government’s turn to Soviet support said: ″In general everything is a positive step.″

The officials excoriated hard-line anti-Castro factions in Havana and encouraged exiles to invest, although the U.S. embargo blocks people in the United States from investing.

″There could be much opening, but in reality, our relations with the emigres face very important obstacles, such as the U.S. blockade,″ said Carlos Lage, Cuba’s chief economic planner.

Companies from Spain, Mexico and elsewhere have already invested in scores of joint ventures with the Cuban government.

In Havana, blackouts leave Cubans without power for much of the day. Meat, cooking oil, gasoline, soap, cigarettes, vegetables and many other goods are hard to find.

State rations that not long ago provided at least the basics have fallen to 8 ounces of cooking oil a month, 40 aspirin a year. A typical month’s wage is worth two or three dollars at the black-market exchange rate.

Ironically, Cubans in Cuba are forbidden by law to invest in the large- scale, export industry the government is promoting.

Cuba is trying to save its socialist system with reforms following the collapse of aid from the former Soviet bloc. Under last year’s reforms, 150,000 Cubans have opened small private businesses or applied to do so, Lage said.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina said Cuba would drop a ban on return visits by recent legal emigres and would allow a few children of emigrants to attend Cuban universities.

He promised to establish a department for emigrant affairs. Officials also said Cuba’s parliament may soon discuss changing Cuban citizenship laws that prohibit dual citizenship.

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