Castro's last days

September 15, 1994|By Georgie Anne Geyer

Washington -- HERE IS ONLY one possible explanation for Cuban President Fidel Castro's astonishing turnaround on negotiating with the United States: He is now so desperate that it is no longer premature to discuss the downfall of his regime.

For when Fidel Castro's negotiators went home to Havana the first week of September -- only to return to New York to announce that Cuba would actually agree to U.S. proposals to accept some 20,000 more legal immigrants -- they were breaking every rule of Fidel Castro's about dealing with the enemy (us).

Throughout his lifetime of Machiavellian maneuvering, in which he has always first "negotiated," then broken off, then so convincingly pretended to negotiate again, then finally found some way to weave away from any real decision-making, Fidel Castro has never, ever behaved like this.

The good part is that, after all the indecision and weaving back and forth between bureaucracies and philosophies over Cuba policy, the Clinton administration (largely thanks to this "new Castro") came out with a mark of "not bad." The downside is that the situation inside Cuba is now rapidly reaching such depths of deprivation that the end of his revolution, and of him, really could be on the horizon.

We now know, as with so many situations where one event sparks the final act, that this summer's riots and immigrations began March 13 with the brutal sinking of a Cuban tugboat filled with escaping Cubans. Not only did Cuban military units pummel the terrified people off the boat's deck with water cannons and ram it until it dissolved into pieces, they also then created eddies to drag the dying down underwater.

After so much suffering, the Cuban people found this last horror too much.

A few of us also believe that there are, for the first time, real signs of organized rebellion inside Cuba. Rumors that this summer's riots were actually being led by former intelligence officers, ones who were dismissed at the time of the fraudulent trial of Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989, seem solidly based. The Cuban writer Norberto Fuentes, who just defected, said upon arrival here that thousands of Communist Party members had turned in their party cards this turbulent summer.

Cuba scholar Ernesto Betancourt, former head of Radio Marti, has recently been systematically interviewing defectors who have had contact with Cuba's political and military upper echelons. "These men," he says, "said Cuba's elite were guided by three factors: fear of Mr. Castro's repressive apparatus, fear for their personal futures and fear of Cuba's losing its sovereignty after Mr. Castro falls."

Therein surely lies the real challenge: The U.S. government must communicate that it would support whatever government comes after Fidel Castro. But the Clinton administration's initial embrace of Miami's Cuban-American right, which wants to march into power in Cuba under American power, deters these forces inside Cuba from acting.

Which brings us to a distinctly odd dinner during President Clinton's Martha's Vineyard vacation in late August.

The Clintons had dinner at William Styron's Martha's Vineyard house and Colombian writer Gabriel "Gabo" Garcia Marquez, a house guest of author Styron's, was at the dinner. Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari apparently also was in on the plans, with the intention of getting the United States to lift the embargo against Cuba, according to Latin American specialist Henry Raymont, who wrote about the dinner in Hoy, an Ecuadorean newspaper. In the end, there were surely messages exchanged, attempting some forms of reconciliation, and it seems President Salinas was instrumental in getting Mr. Castro to change course.

But for how long? Fidel Castro's turnaround is probably temporary. He will again move for negotiations aimed at removing the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The Cuban negotiator, Ricardo Alarcon, came to New York with statements practically begging U.S. businessmen to come to Havana.

Therein lies the answer inside the riddle that is Cuba. Basically, there IS no economy there anymore. Now, all Fidel can do is suffer through the indignity of begging the United States he hates so much to take off his hands still more of the people his revolution has so physically and morally impoverished.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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