FIDEL CASTRO has not been able to count on his Moscow patron for some time now, and Cuba is in economic shambles. But the man who 40 years ago defied a corrupt right-wing dictatorship and, under Uncle Sam's nose, replaced it with a Marxist regime, jokes these days about luring American dollars to bolster Cuba's exhausted economy.
Mr. Castro's intent is serious. He announced in his annual speech celebrating the victory of his revolutionary Army in 1959 that Cubans would no longer be prohibited from possessing United States currency. He also indicated there would be an easing of restrictions on visits to their homeland by Cubans living in the US and elsewhere, and that they could bring their dollars with them.
So far there has not been a rush to Cuba from places like Miami. Cuban exiles are not inclined to help pull Castro's feet out of the fire. But recent information about worsening shortages of food and other essentials at least may induce some to send money or much-needed staples.
One US religious group, calling itself Pastors for Peace, is already sending aid packages to Cuba through Mexico.
At some point, particularly if Castro's situation becomes more precarious, Cubans living in exile will inevitably look for opportunities to succor fellow Cubans. But such help would not likely be forthcoming without evidence of some basic economic and political changes in Cuba, and few expect that now.
Castro's jibes about attracting dollars from the US and other Western countries reveal both his desperation and his audacity.
Forty years ago on July 27, 1953, Castro came ashore on Cuban soil. Few suspected that his guerrilla force would develop into a new, Marxist regime in Havana. Ironically, the current economic crisis in Cuba coincides with that anniversary.
US dollars actually have been persona non grata in Cuba since shortly after the 1956 ouster of corrupt Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista by Castro and his idealistic Marxist army of intellectuals and peasants.
Cuban leaders sound as though they expect soon to open doors to business people and tourists bearing millions in dollars and other strong currencies. It's not likely to be that easy. A badly flawed system such as Cuba's cannot be rectified without major repercussions. And Castro doesn't seem to be indicating that he is ready to discard his Marxist orientation and install a free-market system.