WHILE THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION meeting -- taking place in Seattle November 30 through December 3 -- is raising the ire of left-wing activists who view the WTO as the linchpin of world corporate hegemony, the meeting may also provide some fodder for suit-and-tie capitalists. That's because Seattle City Council Member Nick Licata has invited Fidel Castro, the last grand diva of communism, to attend the event.

"We hope you will take this opportunity to personally visit us," Licata wrote to President Castro in a July 22 letter. "There is much that we hope that you could learn from your visit to increase trade between our region and your nation.... Seattle is proud to be hosting the WTO.... We look forward to this event and hope you can attend it...."

Licata, no fan of the union-busting WTO, says Castro could be a "moderating" influence, hopefully pointing out ways international trade agreements can be used toward progressive ends, like raising environmental or labor standards. Licata ran the letter by all his council member colleagues, getting signatures from Council President Sue Donaldson and Council Members Peter Steinbrueck, Tina Podlodowski, and Richard McIver.

Licata says he wrote the letter at the behest of U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott. On July 13, McDermott sent a letter to Licata requesting that Licata invite Castro as a way of "building stronger ties between the United States and the people of Cuba."

McDermott's office also asked King County to invite Castro. Five commissioners signed off on a July 26 letter.

Meanwhile, McDermott sent his own invite to the world-famous Marxist. "It is time to end the trade embargo and begin a relationship of mutual respect and economic partnership," McDermott wrote. "By visiting Seattle during the WTO Ministerial, you will create an excellent opportunity to begin to build a new and more productive relationship."

McDermott, one of Congress' vocal opponents of the Cuban embargo, organized the letter-writing campaign because he wants Castro to feel welcome in Seattle. The last time Castro came to the U.S. -- on UN business in New York City -- it was awkward because Mayor Giuliani wouldn't meet him. "The message is, [Castro] can come to an international gathering, and it won't be problematic," McDermott spokesman David Schaefer says. "If [Castro] chooses to attend, he's welcome here. This is not a traditional old-line communist. He wants to be part of the international community and world trade. Cuba is a founding member of the WTO. Hey, he might be interested in buying some airplanes."

No word from Mayor Schell about the potential for a lunch date with Castro, but the situation could be problematic. Cynthia Bergman, Sen. Slade Gorton's spokeswoman, was "surprised" by the invite, and after realizing it wasn't

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