September 14, 1998

Castro Meets With Ali, Asner


.c The Associated Press
September 12

HAVANA (AP) -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro made a surprise visit to boxer Muhammad Ali and actor Ed Asner at a reception marking the end of their visit to Cuba.

``He (Castro) expressed deep gratitude and deep appreciation for everybody,'' said Bob Schwartz, executive director of the New York-based Disarm Education Fund.

Ali and Asner, along with their wives, spent three days touring Cuban hospitals and clinics with representatives of the Disarm Education Fund and Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Direct Relief International.

With the help of funds raised by Ali and Asner, the groups have provided medicines and medical supplies to Cuba. Ali and Asner left Cuba on Saturday afternoon.

Schwartz said Castro stayed at the Friday evening reception for about two hours.

``I was surprised by his deep knowledge of how the Cuban health care system works,'' said Schwartz, who talked to Castro for about 40 minutes.

The Cuba health care system, long considered one of the finest in the developing world, has deteriorated in recent years. Cuban officials blame the 36-year-old U.S. embargo intended to force democratic changes in Cuba; U.S. officials blame Cuba's socialist economy and a cutoff of aid by the former Soviet Union.

AP-NY-09-12-98 1922EDT

Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.




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