A Death in Cuba

January 23, 1992

Cuba was acting within its sovereign right in executing Eduardo Diaz Betancourt on Monday. It was also acting in panic.

The recent Cuban defector had been caught with two American-based compatriots running arms from a dinghy onto Cuba's north coast. Many regimes would do what Fidel Castro's did. It was reacting not from fear of the Cuban emigre community in Florida, which sponsors these forlorn incursions, but rather from paranoid terror of the impoverished and disillusioned population in Cuba.

Hence, the invader who had only eight months earlier escaped from Cuba was the one executed, while his two companions from the exile community were spared. And hence, there have been arrests of 60-some human rights activists in Cuba in the past few months.

The mission Mr. Diaz Betancourt attempted was never going to succeed. The U.S. ought to put a stop to the amateurish tactical training by weekend warriors in the Florida Everglades. Havana's secret service -- the part of Cuba that works -- keeps tabs on this movement. The FBI ought to be able to find it. Mr. Diaz Betancourt never had a chance. He should never have been let loose.

Mr. Castro's real problems are at home. Without Soviet aid, he would not have lasted. That aid helped break the back of the Soviet Union. Small wonder that under the new post-Soviet arrangements, Cuba has yet to work out a deal with the one republic that counts, Russia. President Boris Yeltsin gets applause when telling audiences that former foreign aid is diverted to Russian needs.

The Russian foreign ministry's head of Latin American relations told The Sun's John M. McClintock in Mexico City that Cuba should "bend over backward" to improve relations with the U.S. The presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela have urged Mr. Castro to adopt reforms to meet the Bush administration's criteria for better relations.

Mr. Castro made friendly gestures, notably summoning a nostalgic reunion in Havana of the cold warriors from the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. But toasting a retired CIA executive is one thing. Cubans bent on change are something else, and terrify Mr. Castro. Mr. Diaz Betancourt was killed so that the Cuban dictator can sleep well a little longer. Not much longer. From the Florida vantage point, Mr. Diaz Betancourt died in vain. From the Cuban perspective, he was executed in vain.

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