Castro won the international prestige of hosting a major summit, a denunciation of U.S. laws affecting property in Cuba and calls for social justice in the closing declaration late Tuesday.
But as summit host, he also presided over visitors strongly linking democracy with individual freedoms, and many visitors met with often-jailed dissidents whom Castro has referred to as tools of the United States.
"There cannot be sovereign nations without free men and women," Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo told the closing session, "men and women who can fully exercise their essential freedoms: freedom to think and give opinions, freedom to act and participate, freedom to dissent, freedom to choose."
Panama's president, Mireya Moscoso, offered a similar statement. "Democracy permits the freedom to express our ideas, to dissent with those who govern," Moscoso said.
Earlier in the summit, Spain's King Juan Carlos and Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio also spoke out on the commitment to individual freedoms by Ibero-American nations.
The closing "Declaration of Havana" like those of most previous summits expressed a more general commitment to "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."
The statements coincided with a series of meetings between several national leaders and prominent Cuban dissidents apparently the first ever on Cuban soil by visiting heads of state or government.
Heavy press attention to the visits apparently irritated Castro, who charged at a news conference that they created a false, "virtual reality" that ignored the achievements of the summit.
"The whole Yankee strategy was to shift the view from the essential and vital themes of the summit so that the world believes there is large dissidence, an enormous opposition ... That does not exist in reality," Castro said.
He said he had read many of the news stories and found "There was no summit here ... The great things of the summit were not discussed, but rather virtual realities and interviews between those men called dissidents and personalities."
Castro also defended Cuba's nonparty but Communist-dominated elections as "a thousand times more serious and more honest" than U.S. elections.
Human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, who took part in most of the meetings with visitors, said he feared that following the summit, the government would "harden its discourse and its positions on internal and external politics."
The summit also saw the historic first visit to Cuba by a reigning Spanish monarch, King Juan Carlos, and the ceremonial inauguration of a Cuban medical school that gives free six-year training to thousands of low-income students from Latin America.
Castro said on Tuesday that Cuba had gained ground since the first summit in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1991, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet bloc.
"I was a strange bird there, an intruder whose admission to that hall had the taste of forgiveness," the Cuban leader said. "Cuba had always been left out of every meeting in this continent. Some looked at me with curiosity and even pity."
Now, he said, "we do not need to be summoned or receive anyone's permission to meet like a family without exclusions."
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press