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Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 13:37 GMT 14:37 UK

World: Americas

Castro urges anti-drug pact with US

Fidel Castro says the US has more to gain from closer anti-drug ties

Cuban President Fidel Castro has launched a fierce attack against his opponents in the United States for blocking closer co-operation between the two countries against drug trafficking.

President Castro said US reluctance to sign an anti-drug agreement with the island was politically-motivated "foolishness".

Right-wing lies

He denounced what he called a campaign of lies and blackmail, and said right-wing senators and Cuban American leaders were, in effect, supporting drug traffickers by sabotaging a closer deal with President Clinton.

Closer ties "would benefit the United States 50 times more than it would Cuba", he told the 100,000-strong rally in the central town of Cienfuegos on Monday night.

Cuba has recently toughened sentences for drugs offences, and Mr Castro said drug traffickers would be tried "without a single exception".

He added that the island had arrested 693 foreign drug traffickers in the last three decades and had confiscated more than 100 boats and planes involved in the trade.

He warned that the island would quickly become a crime and drug centre were his government to be unseated.

White House praise

Cuba, which straddles 1200 km across the Caribbean, is increasingly becoming a drugs trans-shipment point.

Up until now the US and Cuban authorities have only co-operated on a case-by-case basis, but President Castro has long been pressing for closer links, and for sharing evidence and intelligence information to help prosecute traffickers in US courts.

His efforts have brought praise from the White House drugs director and low-level talks between the two countries to increase technical contacts.

But the response of Cuban American leaders and conservative US politicians has been to launch a campaign to stop any closer deal, accusing the Cuban Government of itself being involved in smuggling.

Pan Am Games

Earlier in his four-hour speech, President Castro accused both the US and Canada of dirty "tricks" aimed at harming Cuba during the Pan American games in Winnipeg.

He said that at the last minute organisers had removed from the games more than 100 gold medal events at which Cuba was traditionally strong.

He criticised the Canadian media for calling on Cuban athletes to defect.

Relations between Cuba and Canada have long been friendly but have soured recently as Canada has stepped up its criticism of the island's human rights record.

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