“Free market neo-liberalism” creates “savage societies,” Cuban President Fidel Castro has declared, accusing the United States of being “powerful in everything except ethics and ideas,” according to official Cuban sources.

In speeches commemorating “International Workers Day” — May Day — Castro attacked capitalism in general, stating that “imperialism, unable to escape its own shadow, is preordained to increasingly pillage and exploit the world.” Castro condemned the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Association of the Americas as a tool of U.S. oppression and portrayed its supporters in Latin America as “blind to the expansionist desires of Washington.”

The statements were carried by Radio Habana Cuba, the official broadcasting service of the Cuban government.

In the closing speech to the 18th Congress of the Confederation of Cuban Workers, Castro reaffirmed communism’s hold on the island, placing in perspective recent market reforms that have taken place in Cuba.

“Our society is a socialist one, not a mercantile one,” Castro emphasized.

Castro cited the reported remarks made by World Bank President James Wolfensohn that Cuba had made significant progress in health care and education. Castro stated that Wolfensohn’s comments “indicate that Cuba is a just society.”

Appearing in Havana’s Revolution Square before a crowd officially estimated to be “well in excess of a million people,” Castro stated that the U.S. is seeking to annex Latin America and that the Free Trade Association’s “unequal conditions will lead to the devouring of their [Latin American and Caribbean] countries.”

“The superpower to the north will be able to devour us, but not digest us,” Castro declared.

“What is most sad, cynical, and hypocritical,” Castro asserted, “is that the Free Trade Association is being designed without consulting the region’s peoples.”

Castro then led a mass demonstration to the U.S. interest section, leading the demonstrators in the chant, “Annexation no, plebiscite yes.”

Cuba is the only nation in the region that has not been invited to participate in the Free Trade Zone of the Americas, which is planned to be established by 2005.

Ironically, Cuba itself has been active in the process of Latin American/Caribbean economic integration.

In August 2000, Cuba voiced its support for the Latin American Integration Association on the occasion of the organization’s 20th anniversary. Cuba, a member of the LAIA, praised the group as having “an important role in the region’s efforts to insert itself into the process of world economic globalization.”

Cuba speculated that the LAIA could establish a free trade zone in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2005.

“Latin America should look to developing all types of inter-regional links,” the Cuban government stated.

In discussions regarding regional economic cooperation organizations in which Cuba would participate, Havana made no mention of a plebiscite, in stark contrast to Castro’s vocal demands concerning the Free Trade Association of the Americas.

In an interview with WorldNetDaily, Mariela Ferretti, spokeswoman for the Cuban American National Foundation, expressed skepticism at viewing Havana’s mass rallies as a true expression of popular Cuban sentiment.

Large numbers of those in the rallies “do not come under their own volition,” stated Ferretti. Noting that most Cubans still work for government-owned enterprises, she stated that employees attend when their employers instruct them to do so. “That is the way of life in Castro’s Cuba,” Ferretti said.

Although Castro demands a plebiscite for the Free Trade Zone, Ferretti observed that Castro has ruled for 42 years without holding a presidential election.

Concerning free elections in Cuba — including for president — Ferretti asked, “Why not hold internationally supervised elections, and put the whole matter to rest?”

When asked about communism’s hold on the island, Ferretti affirmed that “as soon as the Cuban people are given a genuine opportunity to make a choice, they will not choose communism.”

“Cubans are hard working and love a challenge,” Ferretti commented. Communism’s “paternalistic system” in Cuba is “an accident of history,” she stated.

Ferretti noted that Cubans still flee to the U.S. in search of freedom, a commonplace occurrence that did not take place before Castro came to power.

“Geographically, the U.S. is no closer to Cuba than it was 50 years ago,” she observed.

Although no formal request has been made, Ferretti hopes the Bush administration will review procedures for repatriating Cubans intercepted on the high seas while attempting to reach the U.S.

Ferretti described as “ambiguous” current procedures used for determining who receives protective status and is not returned to Cuba, as opposed to those who are immediately sent back to the island.

Cubans receiving protective status are eventually sent to a third nation as refugees, but often find themselves at risk at the hands of pro-communist sympathizers in those nations.

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