Cuba's Non-Event

October 17, 1991

Speaking of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, the long-awaited Fourth Communist Party Congress of Cuba decided to legitimize the flourishing private market of plumbers and other individual tradesmen. It shuffled the Central Committee and Politburo to be somewhat younger and more moderate. It called for more exports to hard currency countries ,, and for foreign investment to lure tourists. It wants to increase participation in the one-party political monopoly somewhat. That Fidel Castro's plan to deal with the collapse of world communism and with Cuba's stunning isolation.

The crisis Cuba faces is the end of Soviet subsidies and disruption of Soviet-Cuban trade. No longer is Moscow the provider that allows Havana to thumb its nose at Washington. The former Soviet Union is a self-acknowledged Third World supplicant for help from the more successful capitalist countries, and no longer interested in bankrolling a client for ideological points.

Cuba depends on food from the Soviet Union, which produces enough but cannot distribute it to its own people before spoilage. One answer to Cuba's desperate strait would be to reinstitute farmers' markets, such as the Soviet Union long permitted, where farmers sell food to consumers outside the state system. This clearly would increase production. But Cuba tried that system before and it worked far too well. It was abolished during the ideological purification campaign of the Third Party Congress in 1986. Mr. Castro ruled out reconsidering this time, the one reform that might help in the short run.

Cuba is in debt $7 billion, mostly to fellow Latin countries, and cannot pay. It cannot feed its people. It seeks help from Latin capitalist democracies that Mr. Castro tried to subvert or overthrow.

Communism, from its stifling economics to repressive politics, is not the solution in Cuba. It is the problem. Making communism a little more effective -- which is at best what the Fourth Party Congress attempted -- does little but invite more drastic remedies, remedies that Cubans dare not advocate and may only dream.

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