Its Patron Gone, Cuba Hints at Reform after Communism's Fall, the Soviet Union and Its Client-State Cuba No Longer Have the Means to Export Revolution in Central America

By David Clark Scott, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 6, 1992 | Go to article overview

Its Patron Gone, Cuba Hints at Reform after Communism's Fall, the Soviet Union and Its Client-State Cuba No Longer Have the Means to Export Revolution in Central America


David Clark Scott, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


CUBA has long been portrayed as the former Soviet Union's regional puppet and the base of Soviet power projections. Certainly, Gen. Fidel Castro Ruz got money, arms, and whatever was needed to support leftist insurgencies in Central and Latin America. But, Cuba specialists say, the Cuban leader has always played his own hand.

However, the collapse of the Soviet empire has made the debate almost moot. President Castro has lost his benefactor. The few remaining political, economic, and military ties are mere shadows of the former relationship.

The isolation has helped produce what Cuba expert Philip Brenner considers the most significant change in the communist island state's foreign policy: no more aid to leftist revolutionaries.

"Castro now says that internationalism must begin at home," says Professor Brenner of American University in Washington. "The best thing Cuba can do for the third world is be a beacon of hope.... That means they've got to survive."

The United States has no intention of making that easy. Last month, President Bush directed the US Treasury Department to tighten the three-decade-old embargo. Any cargo, passenger, or recreational ship that carries passengers or goods to Cuba will now be barred from US ports.

Some analysts say Cuba's new nonintervention policy reflects the fact that Castro no longer has the means to export revolution.

The nation of 11 million people is desperately courting Latin American countries to try to replace sweetheart deals it enjoyed with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, which accounted for up to 85 percent of Cuba's trade. In the last year, Cuba has restored relations with Colombia, Chile, and Bolivia. The government is giving top priority to Latin corporations interested in joint-venture deals with Cuba in tourism and other industries.

But Brenner notes that further evidence of the depth of change is the recent removal of Manuel Pinero, longtime head of the Americas Department in the Cuban Foreign Ministry. Cuba watchers consider Mr. Pinero to have been the hard-line coordinator of Cuba's efforts to subvert governments in the hemisphere.

His replacement, Jose Antonio Arbezu, formerly Cuba's chief diplomat in Washington, is seen as a skilled diplomat and a moderate.

Changes in Cuba's domestic political policy are less apparent.

Coming on the heels of the aborted hard-line coup in Moscow, last October's Fourth Communist Party Congress was expected to produce some fireworks, possibly including limited free-market economic reforms.

"Looking at the Soviet experience, you might have expected somebody or a small group from within to challenge the leadership," says Marifeli Perez-Stable, Cuba specialist at the New School for Social Research in New York. "It didn't happen. The ruling elites seem to be uniting around Fidel.... That's an important factor in preventing radical change."

But Castro is being encouraged by Latin American leaders to enact democratic reforms and curb human rights abuses. And the Party Congress did approve minor political reforms: direct elections of representatives to the national legislature in October 1992 and an offer of party membership to religious believers. …

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