Cuba bears watching

WASHINGTON — Washington -- OVER THE past troubled year for Cuba, whenever people have asked me what Fidel Castro will do if he finally goes down, they have been stunned by my response.

Invariably, they seem to think I have gone a bit berserk when 66TC answer, "Well, he might attack Florida."


Now, suddenly, the apocalyptic "solution" to Castro's woes does not seem so strange at all. In fact, I just came across an ominous congressional statement of this spring by the University of Miami professor and specialist on Cuba, Jiri Valenta, in which he goes further than I ever did.

What unites all schools of thought on Cuba today, he says, is "the fear that an abrupt Soviet disengagement followed by a clear-cut revolutionary situation in Cuba might provoke some U.S. counteraction and, in turn, a Cuban attack on the Turkey Point nuclear facility in Florida."


We now know that Castro strongly considered such an attack in 1983 after the invasion of Grenada. Castro's wily intent was to enlarge the military confrontation in order to directly involve the Soviets. Indeed, according to impeccable authority, Castro proclaimed Napoleonically at the time: "I don't have nuclear weapons, but I can create a nuclear explosion!"

Although there is little sign that danger is perceived here in Washington, the Caribbean situation is in truth increasingly ominous. The chief of the KGB, a man who rarely leaves Moscow, was in Havana last week, and stories have suddenly emerged from columnists Evans and Novak about the forbidden SS-20 missiles again being seen in Cuba.

As if Castro's problems were not bad enough, it has now come to light that there has been a five-month interruption of delivery of Soviet foods to Cuba and that Soviet technicians are leaving in numbers. Because of the horrendous economic conditions and shortages, Castro has moved 200,000 persons back to the countryside, where they are breeding a kind of Cuban rat (the "jutia") to eat. So many Cuban refugees are pouring into Florida that the U.S. government has warned Castro against unleashing "another Mariel." And 70,000 Cubans are trying desperately to leave under Castro's new policy of allowing younger Cubans to leave in order to prevent a possible internal social explosion.

Still, those Americans who are going in and out of Cuba these days (and there has also been a huge and strange increase in movement between Miami and Havana) report that the island is not yet in an overtly revolutionary situation. As one reporter put it, "The Cubans are so politically fatigued, and so busy surviving, that they don't have the mental space left over to rise up."

Let us try to make sense of some of these labyrinthine events that bode even stranger things ahead in the Caribbean.

There are two reasons why the KGB chief could have been making this strange trip to Cuba at this time. One, Mikhail Gorbachev needed a hard-liner to deliver some bad-news message to Castro -- and there surely are bad messages ahead for the Cuban dictator. Or, two, the trip might have even more sinister reasons behind it. The anti-Gorbachev far right in the Soviet Union might in some way be joining with Fidel against the Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin liberalizers.

Whichever is true, it is clear that Fidel Castro is using events to again become an actor on the world stage, as he has so many times before. This time, he can play the spoiler to Gorbachev, a man he impassionedly hates, while at the same time strengthening his hard-line friends in the Kremlin (as he has been doing for the past year, in quite deliberately inviting Moscow hard-liners to vacation in Cuba).

Meanwhile, in Washington and Miami, U.S. policy is not taking into consideration these complicated developments. Indeed, Cuban exile groups, such as the Cuban American National Foundation, are setting up commissions of prominent Americans such as Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and labor leader William Doherty to plan the "reconstruction of Cuba." And one begins even to hear worrisome murmurs by some Pentagon officials, murmurs that no longer deny categorically the possibility of American intervention in Cuba.


When you put all these pieces together, the puzzle that is Cuba could mark the next foreign policy crisis for the United States.