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Castro's problems

IT has not been a good couple of weeks for Cuba's Fidel Castro. In his relations with the United States, in his relations with the Soviet Union, and with a setback for Cuban-backed forces in Angola, he has suffered a series of affronts and reverses.

In one sense, his decision to revive an immigration agreement with the United States solves a problem for him. It will relieve him of up to 27,000 Cubans a year who do not like his regime and want to flee to American shores. This will presumably make these disenchanted Cubans somewhat more passive while they are waiting for permission to leave. Over time, their departure will also lessen the burden on an economy finding it difficult to provide food and jobs for everybody; some analysts say there are 600,000 Cubans between 17 and 29 who have no work and are not serving in the Army.

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But in a larger sense, it is an admission of defeat. It is an admission that thousands of Cubans prefer freedom to Cuba's austere brand of communism.

Moreover, Dr. Castro has failed to gain any concessions on Radio Mart'i, the radio unit of the Voice of America that broadcasts Spanish-language programs to Cuba from the United States. It was his anger over the start-up of Radio Mart'i that caused Castro to cancel the immigration agreement earlier. Now he has reinstated the agreement without any success in silencing or censoring Radio Mart'i.

Further, Castro has been embarrassed by the rioting in two American prisons of some of the 2,700 Cuban prisoners who would be shipped home under the agreement. Among these are criminals and mentally disturbed individuals whom Castro slipped in among the exodus of Cuban refugees from Mariel in 1980. Their lack of enthusiasm for returning to Castro's Marxist lotusland has been made plain.

Meanwhile, although Castro returned home from the October revolution ceremonies in Moscow claiming it was his ``most happy'' visit to the Soviet Union, there are signs of friction. Mr. Gorbachev went through all the proper motions of showing respect to Castro, and the relationship between the two continues to serve each side's present interests. But in an address Nov. 2, Gorbachev made it plain there were important economic policy differences. One analyst of Cuban affairs says, ``Gorbachev is offering material incentives, while Castro is tightening up and talking about moral incentives.'' Gorbachev's implied criticism of Castro was edited out of the versions made available to the Cuban public. While the Soviets continue to find Castro useful, they are apparently readier to put pressure on him and admonish him, and are unwilling to support new ventures by him.

The Soviets may well be looking with skeptical eyes at the whole Soviet and Cuban-backed operation in Angola in support of the Luanda government. A summer offensive by government forces against Jonas Savimbi's Western-backed UNITA troops has apparently failed. It is supposed to have involved Cubans and Soviets and been under the command of a Soviet general. The defeat is more bad news for Castro. Unless the Soviet Union and Cuba offer substantially greater military aid to the Luanda government, its chances of defeating UNITA seem slim. Such an increased commitment seems unlikely. Gorbachev, already uneasy over the Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan, is unlikely to want to step further into the Angolan sinkhole. By contrast, the Soviets, carrying the Cubans along with them, might want to cut a face-saving deal in Angola.

As if all this were not enough, even the woes of the American stock market and the fall of the dollar have beset Castro. The devalued dollar has ballooned his foreign debt by about 50 percent - without his getting a penny more in loans to show for it.

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