All the Gold of Cuba

August 27, 1991

Fidel Castro brought it off. The 11th Pan American Games in Cuba were a triumph for the home team. The country is left with new facilities for its sports program. Cuba came in first in golds for the first time, with 140 to the U.S. 130, and had a whopping 265 total medals for a small country, good for second place to the U.S., which had 352.

Canada, it should be noted, came in third in total medals and gold, ahead of Brazil and Mexico. The U.S. sent second-string teams in several sports because of conflict with other events. That may help explain the U.S. bronze in basketball and baseball, but not the U.S. gold in soccer.

For Fidel Castro, who has not seen world events or the Cuban economy go his way, it was a personal triumph. The new Cuban heavyweight boxing champion is as awesome as the old, the baseball team is as good as touted and the venerable dictator, who was everywhere, got to kiss each member of the triumphant Cuban women's volleyball team.

The spectacle afforded a degree of Cuban membership in the club of American nations, which was a plus for its ruler, and displayed the Cuban way of life, which was an eye-opener. Cuban fans got into these games free -- Orioles fans, eat your hearts out -- even if they had to line up at dawn for seats. That is some consolation for those other queues, for food staples, and the decrepit state of the country as vividly described in the reporting of Sun sportswriter Bill Glauber.

Poor old Mr. Castro got the success he craved. It won't matter much in the long run. Off the playing fields, he comes in last. He had to bring his troops home from Angola. Soviet subsidies were drying up before the Moscow events. Now, with a non-Communist regime driven by the inward-looking Boris Yeltsin, helping Fidel has plummeted to the very bottom of the Moscow priority pole.

This was a victory for Cuba that no others need begrudge. Cuba won the gold whenever Cuban athletes were best, which was often. No one knows better than Cubans that they cannot eat gold medals, and that their lives need improvements that Fidel cannot and will not provide.

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