The most recognized leader of Florida's Cuban exile community says he has been meeting secretly for two years with top advisers to Fidel Castro to discuss the island nation's future without the dictator.
"These contacts have occurred over the last two years with a substantial number of high-ranking Cuban government officials who are close to Castro," said Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the Cuban American National Foun-da-tion."They are part of Castro's inner circle."
Mas Canosa discussed the talks at a news conference Friday to announce formation of a 23-member commission to recommend ways to transform Cuba's battered economy into a capitalist system.
Commission members include former U.N. ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick; U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.; William P. Clark, one of former President Reagan's national security advisers; and economist Arthur Laf-fer.
Mas Canosa's remarks preceded a Reagan speech Friday to a foundation luncheon in which he, too, predicted Castro's fall.
"Castro will soon be gone. His days are numbered," the former president said.
President Bush is to give a speech in Washington Monday marking the 89th anniversary of Cuba's independence from Spain. The president is expected to call for free elections in Cuba.
The foundation has long opposed any contact with Cuban officials, and Mas Canosa insisted that no one was negotiating with Cas-tro.
A spokesman for the Cuban government in Washington disputed Mas Canosa's claims.
"Those contacts only have occurred in the feverish mind of Mr. Jorge Mas Canosa," Ariel Ricardo, a spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section, told The Miami Herald for Saturday editions.
White House officials also were unfamiliar with the meetings, which Mas Canosa said took place in Europe.
Mas Canosa has traveled extensively recently in Eastern Europe, talking with the leaders of governments that have emerged following the fall of communist regimes.