Cuba Revisited After Ten Years of Castro

An image of Fidel Castro decorates a wall inside a state-run carpentry in Havana, Cuba. Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters

A Russian oil tanker moves slowly past the sixteenth-century Spanish castle guarding the narrow entrance to Havana harbor. Castle and tanker symbolize dominion, but of very different kinds. To the Spaniards, Cuba was first and foremost a source of wealth-its own wealth and the wealth of Latin America to which it held the strategic key. To the Russians, it represents an economic loss on the order of some $350 to $400 million a year. The payoff for them is in the coin of political strategy: an extension of the frontiers of communism to the Western Hemisphere.

How real these political dividends are is a question to which, for reasons touched on later in this article, the Kremlin must revert with increasing frequency. Meanwhile the tankers come and go, bringing in more than 95 percent of Cuba's growing oil requirements-a reminder to the Cubans that if they control their destiny more surely now than they did during the four centuries of Spanish rule, the control is still far from absolute. And to control their own destiny is above all else what the leaders of this intensely nationalist régime want to do. "We have known," said Castro last year, "the bitterness of having to depend on others and how this can be turned into a weapon against us." That Cuba should pay her way in the world, as independent of the Soviet Union as of Spain or the United States, is for the militant revolutionary an objective no less important than a higher standard of living. To achieve either, and certainly to achieve both, requires of the Cuban people an initial period of heavy sacrifice.

Austerity then is the first thing that hits the Western visitor-and it is a stunning blow for one who knew Havana before the Revolution. The miniature Manhattan skyline along the seafront is still an incomparable sight as the sun goes down; the shabbiness fades into silhouette pricked out with lights, and the tropical night seems full of promise. But the

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