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Was Fidel Paying Attention?

THOSE hoping for something startling from Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to Cuba were disappointed. On the surface, it was an opportunity for old comrades to affirm their solidarity. But tensions were just below the surface, and they sometimes poked through the obligatory rhetoric.

The Soviet leader's rejection of ``doctrines which justify the export of revolution'' jars with Fidel Castro's fervent support for Marxist revolutionaries abroad. The Soviet statement was welcome in Washington, though it was twinned with a condemnation of the export of ``counterrevolution,'' code for United States support for the Nicaraguan contras. The implication being, perhaps, that one kind of export will stop when the other does.

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That complicates things, but it may present an opening for negotiation. While Mr. Castro criticized the recent political compromise in Washington that allowed continued humanitarian aid for the contras, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias has praised the arrangement and has called on Cuba and the Soviet Union to stop arming Central America's revolutionaries.

We hope the communist leaders were listening. Mr. Gorbachev has reason to help in the Central America peace effort, since better ties to the West - one of his goals - could result. The last thing he needs is a blustery Castro interfering with his ``new politics'' of cooperation.

The Soviets, of course, have plenty of leverage in Cuba. Their aid keeps Castro afloat. Gorbachev might like to see reform given a chance to work on the island's foundering economy. But Castro made it clear, yet again, that perestroika and glasnost are not for him.

If the reform-minded Kremlin chief had an underlying message for Castro, therefore, it may have been, ``Do what you want in Cuba, but don't do anything that torpedoes Soviet relations with the West.''

Which allows the still fervid Fidel Castro to keep practicing the ``old politics,'' preferably just at home.


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