Congress's approval this month of the Cuban Democracy Act, sponsored in the House by Robert Torricelli and in the Senate by Robert Graham, is good news for the reactionary Cuban exiles in Miami. Tightening the existing embargo on Cuba even further, the legislation would forbid trade between American subsidiaries abroad and Cuba and prohibit ships that have landed in Cuba from docking in the United States for 180 days afterward. Perversely, it is also good news for Fidel Castro, according to Cuban dissident Professor Elizardo Sanchez, who told me there in mid-September that the embargo actually provides the Cuban government with a ready-made excuse for shortages caused as much by bureaucratic inefficiencies as by the trade war.
Since he has spent eight and a half of the past eleven years in Cuban prisons, Sanchez cannot be accused of pro-Castro bias. Nevertheless, he and his fellow dissidents in the human rights movement inside Cuba are regularly denounced by Jorge Mas Canosa and his supporters in the Cuban American National Foundation, who did the' legwork and acted as the bagmen for the Torricelli act.
It is perhaps not entirely coincidental that, as Miami PAC money worked its way on the Hill, Havana confirmed the sacking of Carlos Aldana, the Cuban Communist Party's ideology chief, for unspecified "grave offenses," one of which appears to have been the suggestion that reforms might be in order. Sanchez suggests that "both governments are moving in the same direction--toward a very serious social blowup in Cuba. Washington's tightening of the embargo will produce a pressure-cooker effect here." Indeed, he speculates that one of the purposes of the embargo iS :to,, prevent internally generated reforms,and that what the Miami exiles want is a complete collapse in Cuba, and their own return to power. Dangerous Dialogue, the Americas Watch report on the intolerant behavior of the exiles in Miami ("violence and intimidation of dissident political voices in the U.S.-Cuban community is nothing new"), gives a small foretaste of what such a return would be like, and even dissidents in Cuba suspect that if the Cuban people were faced with a straight choice between Mas Canosa and Castro, Fidel would probably win--at the moment.
Nestor Baguer, a writer and journalist dismissed from his positions when he signed an opposition manifesto earlier this year, warned, "It is not like they say in Miami--only a few more months to go. We think the crisis is indeed worsening, but the curve is not as acute as the Miami exiles think. Our rations have enough vitamins and proteins up to now, and the Cuban population still eats better than most people in Latin America. But if this situation gets any worse it could be different?'
Some diplomats in Havana credit the government with remarkable success in switching its trade away from the former Eastern bloc, but the situation remains grave for Castronomics. Juan Escalona, who was in the Sierra Maestra mountains with Castro before the revolution and is now president of the National Assembly of People's Power, was remarkably frank about the difficulties. "In the old days, one ton of sugar was equal to six or seven tons of oil. Now it will get only 1.3 tons of oil. So if we sell all of our 7 million tons of sugar, we can buy just the fuel we need, leaving nothing for fertilizers, industrial raw materials, animal feed and so on?'
In fact, he added, oil imports have dropped from 13 million tons to 7 million tons, while imports overall have dropped by 60 percent in the past two years. Havana has a system of rotating power cuts, and individual consumers have their electricity cut off if they exceed their quota. Bus mileage has gone down by two-thirds, turning Havana into a city full of cyclists, and in the countryside 120,000 oxen have been marsbaled to draw plows, replacing tractors--which of course also means a loss of beef to the market.