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CASTRO WINES AND DINES U.S. BUSINESS LEADERS

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Senior executives from more than 40 major U.S. business corporations dined with Cuba's President Fidel Castro and peppered him with questions about politics, economics and his own personal views, participants said Saturday.

Witnesses, who asked not to be identified, said the Cuban leader, accompanied by senior aides, hosted the dinner Friday evening for the visiting U.S. businessmen, in Cuba on a "newstour" organized by the U.S. publishers Time Inc."The president answered the questions personally or had some of his senior aides add details. We talked about everything, politics, economics, philosophy, even personal things," one of the witnesses said.

Chief executives from U.S. companies including Sears, Hyatt Corp., General Motors, Samsonite Luggage, Kmart, Tandy Corp., The Gap, Lowes, Rockwell and Harley-Davidson, took part.

Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon and other senior officials of the Cuban Communist Party hierarchy and government also attended.

The U.S. chief executives, the biggest group of high-level U.S. businessmen to visit communist-ruled Cuba, had been authorized to travel to the island by the U.S. Treasury Department, which enforces the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba.

Peter Costiglio, a spokesman for Time Inc., said the visit was a "private, information trip," organized as a "news tour" in which the executives acted as "honorary journalists." There were no business negotiations involved, he said, which are barred under the existing U.S. economic embargo.

The U.S. businessmen arrived just hours after President Clinton relaxed some U.S. travel and other restrictions on Cuba, while announcing that his administration would tighten the economic embargo and continue to seek to promote democracy in Cuba.