Events may make Castro more eager for U.S. talks THE SOVIET CRISIS.

August 26, 1991|By John M. McClintock | John M. McClintock,Mexico City Bureau of The Sun

MEXICO CITY L — MEXICO CITY -- The anti-Communist victory in the Soviet Union might make the Castro regime more open to a dialogue with the United States, say experts here.

The analysts said it is unlikely that Moscow would cut off diplomatic, military and economic ties with Cuba, one of the world's last Stalinist holdouts.

Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin has advocated cutting aid to Cuba and has branded Fidel Castro as an anti-democratic anachronism.

But Moscow, in fact, has given Cuba very little economic aid since the signing of a one-year pact earlier this year that essentially puts Cuban-Soviet trade on a world price basis.

Moreover, Mr. Yeltsin would be hard pressed to cut off economic relations with an island that provides the Soviet Union with 40 percent of its sugar, 40 percent of its nickel, 40 percent of its citrus and large quantities of cobalt, said a diplomat here.

The Soviet electronic listening post in Cuba and its 3,000 military technicians still provide Moscow with a way of checking U.S. compliance with arms accords, said the diplomat.

The experts emphasized that Mr. Castro has been showing increasing signs of ending his isolation and that his hosting of the Pan American Games displayed a willingness to treat Americans as respected competitors, rather than enemies.

Along with efforts by Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela, Mr. Yeltsin might convince Mr. Castro to hold talks with the Bush administration, said a Mexican analyst with close ties to the Cuban and Mexican governments.

"These talks must be respectful and cannot in any way have preconditions that amount to an attack on Castro," he said, referring to U.S. demands for free elections in Cuba.

"If done in the right way, I think Castro would be receptive. I think eventually he would even allow elections, just as [Gen. Augusto] Pinochet did in Chile. It cannot be done at the point of a gun."

In a recent interview in Le Figaro, a Paris newspaper, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari offered to act as mediator of a U.S.-Cuba dialogue, providing Mr. Castro was willing.

The comment raised speculation that Mr. Salinas may have been acting in behalf of President Bush, a close friend.

The United States has expressed a willingness to ease its relations with Havana if Mr. Castro holds free elections, ends human rights violations and stops giving arms to the Salvadoran rebels. Havana has denied the arms shipments and human rights violations, and it says its Communist government was democratically elected.

The Mexican president also has been profusely praised by Mr. Castro, who came to the July summit of Latin American presidents in Guadalajara, Mexico.

U.S. efforts to get the Soviet Union to renounce its military and economic ties to Cuba as a precondition for Western financial help were rebuffed earlier this year by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who said he would not betray his Cuban ally.

The Bush administration, as it has on many other anti-Castro measures, quietly let the matter drop.

But with Mr. Gorbachev apparently weakened, the Bush administration may press Mr. Yeltsin to take a stronger anti-Castro line.

"If the U.S. is willing to jeopardize its fundamental strategic interests with the Soviet Union by making Cuba a main issue, it doesn't deserve to be a world leader," said Wayne Smith, head of the Cuba program at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies in Washington. "Cuba is of no significance, except to a few wild-eyed Cuban-American immigrants in Miami."

Mr. Smith, who headed the U.S. special interest section on Cuba under President Jimmy Carter and who has advocated talks with the Castro regime, said the Soviet upheaval may produce some economic reforms but will not lead to Mr. Castro's downfall or undermine the Communist Party's hold on the government.

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