Cubans' Long Jump

December 03, 1993

One measure of what's happening in Cuba is the relentless proclamation of moderating and liberalizing policies to dilute communism and reduce hostility with the United States. Fidel Castro's government has welcomed foreign investment, legitimized the holding of foreign currency by Cuban nationals and offered to negotiate reparations to Americans for properties confiscated in the 1960s.

A second measure is the number of Cubans who flee their island at the slightest opportunity. Two air force pilots landed their MiGs at U.S. bases in September. And the count at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Puerto Rico was at least 40 Cuban athletes missing from the athletes' village; 32 applied for asylum in the United States.

The Castro government appreciates that the danger from the United States is moral and not military. In line with the austerities that are impoverishing all Cubans, it announced a cut in the size of the armed forces. Nature is not kind. The sugar crop was disastrous. Thirty years of U.S. trade embargo did not bring the Castro regime to its knees, and may have been counter-productive. But the cessation of $4 billion to $5 billion in aid from the former Soviet bloc appears likely to be fatal.

The questions are how long the end will take, and what form it will take. A prediction could be years off either way. There is no substantial opposition to the Castro regime visible within Cuba, no force waiting in the wings capable of taking over. That is a tribute to the regime's success in controlling expression and suppressing opposition, and to the safety valve of emigration. Most of the people who might have overthrown Castro had they remained are in Florida or New York, where they do Fidel no harm. Rather, Cuba and Cuban communism are crumbling within, failing even to feed Cubans properly. True belief in the system is gone.

The athletes who defected in Puerto Rico took advantage of an old U.S. law recognizing their plea for asylum because they are Cuban. They are not mainly world class boxers, baseball or basketball players who might command an instant living here. Rather they include such disparate characters as a weight lifter, a field hockey star and a middle-aged, Communist sports writer. They are seeking opportunities in new directions here. They are rejecting a dead end in Cuba.

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