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Last Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
Castro lands for Mercosur summit
Cuban President Fidel Castro arriving in Argentina
Castro, who turns 80 in August, rarely travels outside of Cuba
Cuban President Fidel Castro has arrived in Argentina for a meeting of the regional trade pact, Mercosur.

Mr Castro, who turns 80 in August and has rarely been seen in public in recent months, arrived in Cordoba late on Thursday wearing a military uniform.

Critics say that his infrequent public appearances are a sign of failing health, but Cuban officials deny this.

Mr Castro met Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, a new member of Mercosur, shortly after arriving in Argentina.

Cuba is not a member of Mercosur, but reports say Mr Castro will sign a trade agreement with the bloc.

MERCOSUR
Argentina
Brazil
Paraguay
Uruguay
Venezuela
Associate members
Ecuador
Chile
Bolivia
Peru
Colombia

Venezuela's admission to Mercosur is set to dominate the agenda at the summit.

Mr Chavez has said he hopes to carry his populist social agenda into membership of Mercosur.

His presence in Cordoba, alongside that of Bolivian President Evo Morales and Mr Castro, is expected to liven up the summit.

"Mercosur has to take up the banner of the struggle against social inequalities, against poverty, against misery, against unemployment, the struggle to satisfy the needs of the people," the Associated Press reported him as saying.

Issues

Among the issues are a high-profile dispute between Argentina and Uruguay over proposals to build a paper mill near the border of the two countries which has been heard at the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (left) with Fidel Castro
All five Mercosur leaders are left-of-centre politicians
Earlier this month, the court backed Uruguay's plans to build the mill near an Argentine river. Argentina has voiced concerns about the potential environmental costs of the venture.

Bolivia wants to talk to Chile about access to the sea while another lively meeting will involve Mr Chavez and the outgoing Peruvian president, Alejandro Toledo, who have been hurling insults at one another.

A planned transcontinental oil and gas pipeline and the price of Bolivian gas are also on the agenda.

Cordoba was once the home of the Argentine revolutionary, and Fidel Castro's comrade-in-arms, Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Last month, Uruguay's president Tabare Vazquez criticised Mercosur - which was founded in 1991 - saying it did not work in its current form and only benefited Argentina and Brazil.


SEE ALSO
Venezuela set for Mercosur debut
20 Jul 06 |  Business
Uruguay urges a better Mercosur
02 May 06 |  Americas
Latam partners seek stable region
20 Jun 05 |  Americas
South America blocs in trade deal
19 Oct 04 |  Business
South America trade bloc expands
08 Jul 04 |  Americas
Country profile: Uruguay
25 Feb 06 |  Country profiles

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