Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cuba's Hard Choice: Rebellion or Economic Disaster

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cuba's Hard Choice: Rebellion or Economic Disaster

Article excerpt

WHEN 200 Cuban exiles went back to Cuba last month to meet with President Fidel Castro Ruz, they did so with some optimism that the Cuban leader might be reaching out for dialogue, perhaps even groping for some kind of peaceful transition.

Few believe that now.

The "Nation and Emigration" conference in Havana turned out to be a carefully manipulated affair designed to bolster Mr. Castro's sagging image.

The invitees were selected by the Cuban regime. They were controlled by Cuban officials. They were told there would be no media coverage.

But Cuban television taped a session, including a segment that showed a prominent Miami woman exile kissing and praising Castro. Then the network released an edited version of the tape to news organizations at $700 a copy.

Says one Washington expert on Cuba: "This was not a dialogue. This was a monologue with an echo. Castro used these people cynically."

Magda Montiel Davis, the Miami lawyer who was seen on television kissing Castro and telling him he was "a great teacher," told The New York Times later: "This has definitely set the moderate community {of Cuban exiles} back."

The next time Havana makes an overture to exiles, she said, "people will think not twice, but three times" about responding.

The conference seemed to be a public relations exercise intended to suggest that Castro is popular among exiles - even as his standing at home appears to have reached a new low. Visitors to Cuba tell of Cubans calling Castro names in public. One woman told a foreigner volubly in the street: "This man {Castro} has to get out now. We're fed up and he's an obstacle to solutions."

This unusual condemnation in public stems from the misery brought on by a collapsing economy. Food and consumer goods are in short supply. Although Castro has hinted at opening up the economy, he has in fact reverted to strict state control with a negative impact on the people. …

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