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Friday, March 6, 1998 Published at 23:43 GMT

World: Americas

US businessmen talk trade in Cuba

Fidel Castro's government is pushing hard for change

More than 40 United States businessmen, lawyers and academics are in Cuba to explore trade and investment prospects - should the American economic embargo on Cuba ever be lifted.

Senior Cuban ministers welcomed the visitors, who include representatives of major drug, oil and food companies.

[ image: The Pope visited Cuba in January]
The Pope visited Cuba in January
Addressing the one-day meeting in Havana, the head of the Cuban Parliament, Ricardo Alarcon, said the Pope's recent visit to Cuba had focused debate on the issue of sanctions. The Pope had condemned the US embargo as morally unacceptable.

The embargo forbids citizens from spending any money on the Communist-ruled island so the US businessmen are all guests of the Cuban government.

One of the US visitors, former Congressman for Florida, Sam Gibbons, is lobbying for food and medicines to be excluded from economic sanctions.

"I don't think the average American realises that we've got the cruellest, toughest embargo on the Cuban that we have on any nation on earth," said Mr Gibbons.

"We don't have an embargo on food and medicine on Saddam Hussein today. We never had one against Russia or China at the height of the Cold War - only the poor Cuban people do we deprive of food and medicine."

A BBC correspondent in Cuba says while Fidel Castro's government is clearly pushing hard for a change, proposed legislation to ease the embargo is going to have a tough ride through the US Congress.

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