Castro, Chavez to meet at 15th Iberoamerican Summit in Spain

Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez are among more than 20 government chiefs and heads of state from Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries scheduled to meet in Spain this week for a summit which organizers hope will see less of the usual rhetoric and more concrete results.

The tragedy wreaked by Hurricane Stan in Central America means Guatemalan President Oscar Berger and El Salvador's Antonio Elias Saca will not make it to the 15th Iberoamerican Summit, due to take place in the western city of Salamanca on October 14-15, while Mexico's President Vicente Fox has said he will attend but has canceled planned sideline visits and meetings to regions in Spain.

Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will also attend while special guests include U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

But probably more worrying for host Spain is whether Castro turns up. Castro, 79, rarely travels any great distances. "The latest we have is that he is coming and there will be a full delegation from Cuba," said Fernando Pajares, spokesman for the summit's organizing body.

The Spanish government have sought to play down the likelihood that a possible meeting between Castro and Chavez would divert media attention from what they hoped would, for a change, be a serious summit.

"This summit aims to get past the rhetorical tendencies normally associated with these events, so we can achieve more concrete actions," Enrique Iglesias, 74, who was recently elected the first Iberoamerican secretary general.

Observers in Spain and Cuba say Castro could very well decide not to come at the last minute. They point out that although he hasn't canceled, neither has he confirmed his attendance.

Castro's presence would likely lead to protests by Cuban dissidents and human rights groups while news reports in Madrid said opponents to Chavez might ask the National Court to open an investigation into the Venezuelan leader for the deaths of 19 people in disturbances in 2002. A similar suit was thrown out by the Spanish court in 2003 because he holds immunity as president.

The summit is the second for Spanish Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. His deputy Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said they hoped the Salamanca meeting would "represent a before and after" in Iberoamerican summits, reports the AP. I.L.

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