Nonaligned Movement Countries Meet in Cuba

Leaders from more than 100 countries meet this week in Cuba for a summit of the Nonaligned Movement. The organization was founded during the Cold War for countries that did not want to take sides in world politics. This is the second time Cuba has hosted the summit.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Havana plays host beginning today to leaders of more than a hundred nations. They're in Cuba for a five-day meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. The presidents of Iran and Syria are scheduled to attend, along with a high-ranking delegation from North Korea.

The president of Cuba may show up. Fidel Castro is still recovering from emergency surgery earlier this summer for an undisclosed intestinal ailment. NPR's Tom Gjelten is in Havana and joins us now. Good morning.

TOM GJELTEN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So this summit is a triumph of sorts for Fidel Castro, but the last we heard he was hospitalized, his brother Raul is running the country. What is the latest?

GJELTEN: Well, Renee, the foreign minister of Cuba, Felipe Perez Roque, said yesterday that Fidel is actually going to be listed as the chief of the Cuban delegation. So in this particular case, he has not transferred his leadership role, his powers, to his brother Raul.

There's a big dinner here Friday night where the host country entertains all the delegations and Perez Roque, yesterday, was really dropping hints that Fidel could very well preside at that dinner. So we'll see on Friday night.

MONTAGNE: You know, Tom, the Non-Aligned Movement has a sort of Cold War ring to it. Tell us how it's evolved and what it's doing nowadays.

GJELTEN: Well, you're right, Renee. When the Non-Aligned Movement got started, the world was divided in two opposing camps - the Soviet block and the U.S. block, or the developed capitalist block - and you had key players like President Nasser of Egypt, Nehru in India, Tito in Yugoslavia. None of those guys really wanted to align themselves 100 percent with either side in a Cold War.

But even before the Cold War was over the movement was transforming itself into basically a group of poor and undeveloped countries against the richer countries, and the Non-Aligned Movement came to represent what we called the Third World at the time. And that's the direction they moved in ever since.

There are 116 countries in the movement. The big representations come from Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East.

MONTAGNE: And the agenda for this summit meeting this week?

GJELTEN: Well, as the host country, Cuba basically gets to set the agenda, and the Cuban government would very much like to see all these countries here take a strong stand against the United States. The United States was invited to attend as an observer, but there won't be any U.S. representation here. Just as well I think, because there's likely to be a lot of Bush-bashing, a lot of anti-American speeches.

Perez Roque was asked yesterday if the summit was directed against the United States and he said it's not directed against anyone, but then he went on to list all the things it is directed against: the idea of preemptive wars, the idea of invading other countries, the idea of countries setting up secret prisons, all of which seem to refer to the United States. So there wasn't much of a question about who he was talking.

MONTAGNE: Even if Fidel Castro shows up, is there an extent to which this is a kind of farewell to him?

GJELTEN: Well, the Non-Aligned Movement is very close to Fidel's heart. This is the second time Cuba's hosted one of these summits. The only other country that's hosted two of these is Yugoslavia. And he pushed very hard to have this summit in Havana.

If he does make an appearance here, you're right, it could very well be his swan song. He's 80 years old. He's never going to host one of these meetings again. In fact, it could even be a swan song for Castro's Cuba in a sense because after Fidel, his brother Raul is much less interested in these big international type of events. So I think we're likely to see a number of Third World leaders paying some tribute to Fidel here this week as a country that has stood up to the United States, and I just don't think there's going to be a whole lot more in this line.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

GJELTEN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Tom Gjelten in Havana, where a summit of non-aligned nations is being held this week.

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