UNITED NATIONS -- Cuban President Fidel Castro showed world leaders he has a lighthearted side before he turned serious and accused wealthy nations of hoarding power at the expense of poor ones.
Famed for speeches of eight hours or longer, Castro elicited an explosion of laughter from kings and presidents at the U.N. Millennium Summit on Wednesday when he stepped to the podium, pulled out a white handkerchief, and covered the light that warns speakers they are approaching the five-minute time limit.
He stuck to the time limit, and world leaders laughed as he removed the handkerchief before returning to his seat.
But they sat quietly during his forceful speech, where he assumed his long-standing role as an unofficial spokesman for the Third World -- this time accusing three dozen wealthy nations of monopolizing power at the expense of poorer nations.
Namibian President Sam Nujoma, a former guerrilla leader and co-chairman of the summit, was visibly pleased and thanked Castro for his message.
Wearing a black suit rather than the olive green uniform he dons at home, the Cuban leader decried the poverty that he says afflicts 80 percent of the world's 6 billion people. He accused rich nations -- especially the United States -- of using their power "to make us poorer, more exploited and more dependent."
Inequalities in distribution of wealth and knowledge around the globe, he said, are at the heart of the world's conflicts.
"Current underdevelopment and poverty have resulted from conquest, colonization, slavery and plundering in most countries of the planet by the colonial powers," Castro said.
He said that wealthy nations were morally obligated to "compensate our nations for the damages caused throughout centuries."
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