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Castro finds US economy to be wanting

HAVANA -- The US economy hangs "by a thread," while Cuba, after four decades under Washington's economic blockade, continues to offer free health care and has an infant mortality rate lower than that in the United States, President Fidel Castro said yesterday.

Castro, who is 77 years old, spent 4 1/2 hours delivering a speech to economists from around the world. He

challenged Bush to be clear about how the United States plans to realize a transition to democracy in Cuba. He wondered aloud once again if it involved a plan to kill him.

"The great difference" between Cuba and the United States is that Cuba "has learned to do a lot with very little," Castro said at the Sixth International Meeting of Economists on Globalization and Development Problems.

The Cuban president noted that many of the more than 1,000 attending economists from 50 countries had criticized globalization and the neoliberal economic policies of industrialized nations known as "neoliberal."

Castro also lauded "keen observations" by Daniel L. McFadden, the US economist. Among those, the Cuban leader said, were that the United States, with a fiscal deficit of more than $520 billion, is managing its economy like a "banana republic." "This economy is hanging by a thread," Castro said.

He also lashed out at what he called the foolishness of the US economic blockade, saying it has not stopped Cuba from surpassing the United States in many areas.

Cuba, he said, has no illiteracy, a lower infant mortality rate than the United States has, lower student-teacher ratios, and higher levels of educational achievement.

"Bush couldn't debate a Cuban ninth-grader," Castro remarked as he leaned across the podium.

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