The Pandemic Depression
The Global Economy Will Never Be the Same
Until the moment in February when a Cuban air force MiG-29 shot down two civilian planes sponsored by the Miami-based exile group Brothers to the Rescue near Cuba, people on both sides of the Florida Strait assumed U.S.-Cuban relations were headed for a thaw, if a slow one. But the prospect of normalization had hardly been welcomed in Havana. The Castro regime's only claim that resonates with ordinary Cubans nowadays, particularly those old enough to remember life before Fulgencio Batista's overthrow in 1959, is that it has saved Cuba from American domination.
The ubiquitous slogan "Socialismo o Muerte," "Socialism or Death," has evoked pained smiles on the island since the collapse of the Soviet empire, the loss of Cuba's leading trade partners, and the cutoff of subsidies from Moscow in 1989-91. Socialism has lost, and even those in the upper echelons of the Castro regime know it. But "Patria o Muerte," "Motherland or Death," still carries considerable weight in a country whose political culture is steeped in the legends of resistance and self-immolation of the nineteenth-century struggle for independence. The Second Cuban War of Independence -- known in the United States, to Cubans' chagrin, as the Spanish-American War -- left one-fifth of the population dead and a good part of the island in ruins. Yet for Cubans of almost every political persuasion, including the exile community in the United States, the sacrifice was worth it.
In their own minds, whether rebelling against the Spanish or confronting the Americans, Cubans are continually doing mythic battle. "It is my duty," José Martí, the apostle of Cuban independence, wrote shortly before his death, "to prevent, by the independence of Cuba, the United States from spreading over the West Indies, and falling, with that added weight, upon other lands of our America. My weapon is only the slingshot of David." As the possibility of exporting revolution in the Americas or even building socialism at home has dwindled, the Castro regime has turned to nationalist, anti-American rhetoric to rally a population beset by everyday scarcity and with little prospect of economic improvement.
In early 1991, when the loss of Soviet subsidies that had reached $8 billion a year really began to take its toll, signs sprouted in Havana boasting that the capital would remain "an eternal Baragua." The reference was to an episode in 1878 at the end of the First Cuban War of Independence, in which the revolutionary leader General Antonio Maceo, faced with a superior Spanish force, rejected a settlement that would have called for his army to lay down its weapons. That Maceo soon afterward abandoned the field at Baragua, boarding a British ship for Jamaica, did not seem to matter; the symbolism of the act, Maceo's glorious gesture of defiance, called for emulation. To listen to Fidel Castro, his regime's success in withstanding American domination counts for far more than its failure to run the economy. "We have resisted for 35 years," the Maximum Leader declared in a recent speech, "and if necessary we will resist for 35 more."
That moralized -- not to say romantic -- vision of the goals of the state is not Marxist. Some question whether Castro was ever a Marxist-Leninist, while others suggest that the experiment he has carried out on the Cuban people has -- as befits the graduate of a Jesuit academy who at times still refers to himself as a Christian -- less in common with Lenin than with the communistic experiments of Jesuits in Paraguay in the eighteenth century. But Castro's growing tendency to identify his revolution's success or failure with the degree of influence the United States has over Cuban affairs helps explain the equanimity with which he has accepted investment from capitalist countries. For him, compromise with investors is not difficult; it is compromise with Washington that is unacceptable. Castro's worldview, especially after the Brothers to the Rescue incident and the regime's recent crackdown on dissidents, should not make one sanguine about the possibilities for genuine change in the system he has created.
THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR
Paradoxically, Castro's insistence on the sacred ideal of Cuban sovereignty has thrown Cubans into economic dependence on the hated United States. After Soviet subsidies stopped, Cuba was on the brink of economic collapse in 1992 and 1993. During what was officially dubbed "the special period in time of peace," there were power outages in Havana because the regime could not come up with even $10 million in hard currency to buy emergency fuel supplies, and the authorities seriously contemplated a system in which citizens would eat all their meals in collective feeding centers. To ease the crisis, Castro allowed foreign investment into the country, and in 1993 the regime reluctantly legalized the possession of dollars by ordinary Cubans, previously a criminal, if routine, offense.
Once people could use dollars openly and hold dollar-denominated bank accounts, the dollar took hold as Cuba's second currency. Many on the island came to depend on remittances from abroad, particularly from relatives in Miami. Having once scorned those who left, Cubans increasingly relied on their benevolence. "You spat at the person leaving for Miami," a friend in Havana remarked recently. "You jeered at those who joined the Mariel boatlift. Nowadays, though, you greet a returning person like a king and wait anxiously for his arrival because the money he brings can change everything for you."
Relative to the rest of the economy, remittances from abroad are enormous. At a conservative estimate, exiles send at least $800 million a year to their relatives on the island. The sugar industry, which has been virtually in ruins since the Soviet Union abrogated sugar-for-oil barter agreements, accounts for approximately $300 million in earnings. The largest single foreign investment in Cuba, the nickel mines under development by the Canadian corporation Sherritt International, had revenues of about $250 million last year, while the gross receipts of the tourist sector were between $700 million and $1 billion.
Given that under its joint venture agreement with the Cuban government Sherritt is allowed to repatriate its very considerable portion of the profits, as are the Mexican, Spanish, and German hotel chains that have invested in Havana and the resort area of Varadero, remittances assume even greater significance. Tourism in Cuba has been rising steadily but, for all their recent boasts, Cuban officials have been reticent about how much of each tourist dollar remains in the country. Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said recently that while he was pleased with tourism's gross revenues, the truth was that 81 cents on the dollar went overseas with the partner corporations, most of which are based in Canada or South Florida. It seems likely that the proportion leaving Cuba is at least as high.
While joint ventures are welcome in Cuba, the Castro government has steadfastly refused to allow Cubans to set up small or medium-sized businesses, even to supply the tourist sector. The shampoo in hotel bathrooms, the pillow on the bed, even the packets of sugar in the hotel restaurant -- all are imported. The last is particularly astonishing: the sugar, packaged mainly in Canada, was produced on the island. Countless other examples show that the Cuban economic opening, no doubt profitable for foreign investors, is far less lucrative for Cuba than most assume.
Signs on the streets of Havana may read "Aqui somos libres y sin amo," "Here, we are free and have no bosses," but ordinary Cubans are now all but completely dependent on the dollar economy. The average monthly wage of 200 Cuban pesos, or approximately $10, is not much help when the regime lacks the reserves to provide the basics supposedly guaranteed to holders of the libreta, the ration book, at a nominal price. Although Havana does far better than the rest of the country, most people I spoke with during visits to the city in February and March said they could count on no more than half their monthly allotment of staple foodstuffs and reported that clothing and other "nonessential" allotments were unavailable more often than not. The reward in many factories and offices for exceptional performance is bags of toothpaste, razor blades, and deodorant. These items are of course readily available for hard currency in the shops and markets that have sprung up all over the island since dollarization.
It is not simply, as the old joke in the Soviet Union had it, that under socialism the workers pretend to work and the government pretends to pay them. Adult Cubans must be employed or retired to maintain their right to their libretas, to health care, to their apartments, and to certain subsidized services like electricity. But with wages so low and one's rations not providing even the basics, the government's policy has driven virtually everyone into the dollar economy. This means dependence on relatives abroad, a cash-only business on the side -- whether a paladar, one of the small private restaurants that have proliferated in the past two years, a tire repair shop, or the cultivation of a garden plot -- theft, or prostitution.
Pilferage is an enormous and growing problem, and burglaries, once virtually unheard of, are endemic. So is prostitution, the eradication of which was one of the proudest boasts of the revolutionary government. Ordinary women are now selling themselves for a few items from a dollar shop. A European tourist accompanied by one and sometimes two young Cuban women, usually black or mulatto, clutching a shopping bag full of small purchases is a common sight in Havana and near the hotel complexes at Varadero Beach. Most of the women's families are said to be resigned to what is going on, so long as they are not directly confronted with it. Thus the government's decision to fetishize political independence from the United States has forced Cubans into dependence on dollar remittances from Miami and into a double morality -- whether involving theft, the black market purchase of stolen goods unobtainable through the libreta, or prostitution.
Legalizing the dollar and foreign investment has brought some relief over the past three years -- fewer power outages, more food on people's tables, and a widespread sense that life is getting better, or soon will. But it is not clear the regime has any real solutions for the island's economic problems. What it seems to have opted for, in the name of preserving Cuban sovereignty, is a series of failed solutions: tourism, refurbishment of the sugar industry, mining. If these can be said to offer hope, it is only in the sense that they have offered hope to Jamaica or the Dominican Republic, still chronically impoverished after decades of trying these remedies.
THE SLOGANS ON THE WALL
Defenders of the regime insist that things would be different if not for the U.S. embargo against Cuba in place since 1961 -- or as Cubans refer to it, the blockade. In reality, the question of allocation of resources is at least as important; the army continues to be funded, as do some of Castro's pet projects. But the government-controlled press darkly hints that Cuban innovations in aids research and the treatment of skin and eye ailments would have brought prosperity but for the embargo and the machinations of international drug companies. This paranoid worldview, with its insistence that every setback is someone else's fault and its constant hunts for culprits -- and when external enemies will not serve, Castro scapegoats his own generals or ministers -- may be the regime's enduring bequest to the people.
The regime can still claim some successes. Literacy is virtually universal, and the average citizen enjoys remarkable access to medical care and what is still relatively good health. But education and health are related, and the system in both areas is at or near the breaking point. While Cuban students are admirably literate and numerate, they are not now nor will they soon be computer literate. A place like Havana, where an estimated 15 to 30 percent of the buildings in the old city are structurally unsound, has no money for classroom computer terminals. The effect on economic development is not yet apparent only because there has been so little development. When Cuba begins to vie for the word processing jobs that are already leaving Western Europe and North America for Asia and the Caribbean, it is unlikely to compete effectively.
The crisis in the health care system is more pressing. In spite of the competence and kindness of hospital staff, a lack of equipment and, especially, prescription drugs makes effective treatment difficult. Most cardiac and cancer specialists say that for the past several years they have been able to diagnose their patients but not treat them. Like many visitors to Cuba, I brought drugs for exiles' loved ones. When I delivered the chemotherapy agent to the doctor of my friends' relative, she stared at the package and murmured, "I haven't been able to prescribe any of this in a very long time."
Instead of developing a proper system of production and distribution, the Cuban government has offered the rhetoric of struggle and sovereignty. For 37 years of peace, apart from the Bay of Pigs invasion, Cubans have lived on a quasi-wartime footing, with the regime dispensing militarized rhetoric and rationing essential goods. From the slogans on walls in Havana, one would think a second Bay of Pigs was imminent. Resist or die in the attempt, the signs advise the populace -- incongruous exhortations when the government's principal foreign policy effort seems to be its bid to lure foreign capitalists and German, Canadian, and British tourists to the island.
No doubt most ordinary Cubans pay little more attention to the slogans than American commuters do to highway billboards. But while a gap between rhetoric and reality is a feature of just about every society, in Cuba it has grown more and more extreme. It was one thing in the 1960s to compare the literacy campaign that drew thousands of urban youths to the countryside with the struggle of Castro and Che Guevara's guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. It is quite another for the building of luxury hotels for foreigners on Varadero Beach to be described as revolutionary struggle. The slogans of the Vladimir Ilich Lenin construction brigade posted at the site of the future Sirens hotel -- "Che, your ideas endure in each of us," one read, while another boasted, "As at Baragua and the Bay of Pigs" -- make one wonder how much longer such contradictions can persist.
FAILING THE ECONOMY
Castro likes to say, "Only those who resist are respected," but the Cuban state is resisting only the United States. It is not resisting capitalism (except the smaller-scale, more entrepreneurial type that could benefit ordinary Cubans) or the corruption of its citizenry through prostitution and a huge black market in stolen goods. It is engaged not in a program of Marxist action but in anti-Americanism taken for a species of idealism and become an obsession. In the meantime, Cubans assume that senior officials are enriching themselves so that they will fare reasonably well whether Castro survives or falls.
The regime's commitment to an economic policy that privileges macroeconomic development has left the people largely to fend for themselves. Although the regime has succeeded to a remarkable degree in stabilizing the Cuban peso, its distribution of even staple goods has not improved. A government that cannot stock its own teaching hospitals with minimal supplies of Adriamycin and Methotrexate is still spending millions on biotechnology research. Most important, while the regime demonstrated considerable imagination in redividing the economic pie, it has never been able to make the pie bigger. One has only to imagine what the Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew or the military bosses of South Korea, Taiwan, or Thailand would have done with 25 years of subsidies on the order of those the Soviet Union funneled to Castro to appreciate how badly the regime has bungled the economy.
Apparently at Castro's insistence, the government squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on research into interferon after the Maximum Leader became convinced that the drug would prove to be "the cure" for cancer. It was not the first such folly. In the late 1960s Castro decided to undertake a massive program of cross-breeding Holstein and Brahma cattle aimed at a cow that could stand up to tropical heat but still produce milk as copiously as northern European breeds. "We will have more milk than Holland," Castro boasted. The result was disastrous.
The economic record of Castro's Cuba is one of unbroken failure, and many of the mistakes of previous economic campaigns are being repeated. In the past year, in an eerie echo of the catastrophic sugar harvest of 1970, which was expected to produce a record crop and give the country the working capital to refloat the economy, Cuba has taken out some $300 million in short-term loans to buy equipment and fuel to run the tractors and the sugar refineries. Without the loans, the harvest could not have taken place, but to obtain them, the government was forced to pay interest rates variously estimated at 14 to 20 percent. Even if the harvest reaches the government's goal of 4.5 million tons, the interest payments will negate any real benefit from the sale of the sugar.
In spite of official claims that all is going smoothly, rumors among European commodities brokers have it that Cuba is selling some of the harvest on the spot market to raise cash to import oil to keep the refineries running. As anyone driving through the countryside around Matanzas during the harvest could observe, many refineries are making do by burning bagasse -- chaff from the sugar plant. This is one of the "inventive" solutions to the economic crisis that Cuban officials point to as exemplary of their ability to cope. But one of the reasons the machinery in the sugar industry and many other industries is in desperate need of repair is that the use of bagasse has damaged it. Trapped in a vicious cycle, the regime must borrow money at exorbitant rates or grant economic concessions to foreign companies -- many of which are just waiting for the embargo to end to flip their holdings to U.S. companies for a handsome profit -- all the while knowing no country ever became rich on a monoculture or tourism.
Most Cuban officials insist that the economy has turned the corner and that a successful sugar harvest, increased tourism, and more petroleum and nickel production will soon bring Cubans their highest standard of living since at least the late 1980s. These industries, the authorities claim, led the way in five to seven percent economic growth last year for Cuba. Such figures, however, obscure the continued deterioration of all the sectors not targeted for development. With the exception of the telephone system, which the Mexican conglomerate Domos is committed to refurbishing, Cuba's infrastructure -- its factories, housing stock, roads, and bridges -- are slowly, and in some cases not so slowly, falling apart. The buildings in Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago are gently rotting away, much like revolutionary ardor, even among those who were most ardent.
A few people remain faithful to the old values. "This is a revolutionary," warned a sign I saw in a suburban Havana neighborhood. "There are no dollars here." But to remain faithful is to condemn oneself and one's children to impoverishment even within the general poverty of Cuba. I asked a Cuban acquaintance whether a senior army officer would want his children to follow in his footsteps. My friend laughed dismissively. "Of course not," he said. "In the old days, in the '70s or early '80s, becoming an army officer would have been the best possible career. But today? Today, he would want his son or daughter to work in the hotel business or in one of the joint ventures, where your salary in pesos is supplemented by dollars under the table. That's the only way to survive here -- unless, of course, you have a rich uncle in Miami."
If evidence were needed that the revolution is definitively over, the obsession with dollars provides it. Cuba, while still free of American political control, grows more dependent every day on the U.S. currency and the world economic system in which the United States is dominant. Without American backing for loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Cuba's economic destiny is likely at best to resemble that of its Caribbean neighbors. But the Castro regime is locked in the world that existed when Fidel and Che were in the Sierra Maestra, a world in which the economy was not yet global and geopolitics, rather than geoeconomics, was the essence of international relations.
In spite of his enthusiastic comments about what he saw on his November visit to China, Castro's heart is not in economic liberalization, let alone political reform. The regime has done what it must to survive, and, increasingly, survival is its only discernible goal. Lately Castro has suggested in interviews that he does not care all that much whether the society he built outlives him. Some say he is more interested in securing a place in history as a hero who resisted the Americans to the end than in organizing a transition of any kind. The public discourse of the revolution these days is intensely retrospective and militarized. Newspaper articles commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Cuban victory in Angola, the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Bay of Pigs, the centenary of Maceo's death in battle. Cuban officials even tell visitors with a straight face that the Brothers to the Rescue planes had to be shot down because it was the hundred and first anniversary of the start of the Second Cuban War of Independence.
Such insistence could be seen as bespeaking a weak national identity rather than the strong one Cubans often boast of. In a country like France or Spain, such allusions would make no sense. The emphasis on sovereignty and combat can be understood to express the fear that the United States will overwhelm Cuba's identity. The nationalists view it as tragic that Fidel Castro has been reduced to what he is -- the leader of a small, poor country of 11 million people, 90 miles from the United States -- rather than standing out, as his friend the novelist Gabriel García Márquez once wrote, as the creator of "a foreign policy fit for a great power."
What Castro is is probably the luckiest world leader alive. He was lucky to not have been shot by Batista, defeated in the Sierra Maestra, or overthrown by the United States, and he was lucky the Soviet Union was willing to subsidize Cuba's economy for more than two decades. Communism may be dead, but he hangs on and on. About to turn 69 -- four years younger than presidential candidate Bob Dole -- Castro has outlasted eight American heads of state. Although many confidently awaited the end of his reign in 1992, four years later the regime appears to be in no imminent danger of collapse. Whatever his failings, Castro is a redoubtable tactician.
His worries of the past few years, however, have been urgent. In 1992, during the deep economic crisis of the "special period," the U.S. Congress approved the Cuban Democracy Act. Doubtless some of the many optimists on Cuba have been bemused by the vulgar version of the concept of civil society in which economic reforms by a totalitarian state lead ineluctably to political reforms and, eventually, a market democracy. That was certainly the logic behind the 1992 act. Known as the Torricelli bill after its principal sponsor, Representative Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), the measure declared that "the fall of Communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the now universal recognition in Latin America and the Caribbean that Cuba provides a failed model of government and development... provide the United States and the international democratic community with an unprecedented opportunity to promote a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba."
Passage of the Torricelli bill coincided with the recognition in Havana that even successful macroeconomic development would not deliver enough soon enough to provide for people's basic material needs. Hence the decision to legalize the dollar, but by last year the regime sensed that that trend was getting out of hand. Then, Castro, forced to grant the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba some freedom of action after 1993, by all accounts has been deeply anxious about its reinvigoration (the church sided with Spain against Martí and with the exiles against Castro). Dissidence, while still relatively minor, was on the rise.
Most of the Torricelli bill's critics on the left and many of its supporters on the right viewed the law as simply tightening the embargo against Cuba. But some of the bill's provisions liberalized telecommunications links and called for "assistance, through appropriate non-governmental organizations, for the support of individuals and organizations to promote nonviolent democratic change in Cuba." This line, which became known as Track II, was taken up by Richard A. Nuccio, a former Torricelli aide who after Clinton's election was given the startlingly broad brief of special adviser on Cuban matters to both the White House and the State Department. Administration officials saw an opportunity, as economic liberalization seemed to make the creation of counterweights to the Castro regime's authority a more promising strategy. Nuccio crafted a careful but major change in government policy based on Track II that led to a conference in Washington last December aimed at encouraging humanitarian relief organizations and human rights groups to step up their activities in Cuba.
The Clinton administration's emphasis on a Track II approach alarmed the Castro regime more than the original passage of the Torricelli bill. If the U.S. government turned its attention from supporting the heroic but largely impotent dissident movement to overtly or covertly sponsoring or even just actively encouraging the activities of nongovernmental humanitarian organizations, the regime might find itself faced with a powerful opposing forces. Something must be done, Cuban leaders decided, before the country was deluged by international aid and human rights organizations more likely even than the church to share Washington's desire for Castro's departure.
Brothers to the Rescue planes had buzzed Havana in July 1995 and dropped leaflets over the capital this January. Cuba's attack on the two planes the next month, in or just outside Cuban airspace, could have been the means the regime chose to freeze the situation with the United States for a while and give itself some breathing room. Or, in National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcen's phrase, the exile group might merely have delivered a rationale for a new government campaign of ideological mobilization "on a silver platter." Whatever the case, using what it termed the aggression against Cuba as a pretext, the regime intensified a crackdown against not only dissidents like Elizardo Sanchez but advocates of political and economic liberalization. These advocates were grouped around two government-sponsored think tanks, one dedicated to the study of the United States, the other to the study of Europe. Cuba says 45 people were arrested or detained; dissidents say 150. "Our conception of civil society," General Raúl Castro, first vice president of the Council of Ministers, declared in announcing the crackdown, "is different from that of the Americans."
Two weeks after the planes were shot down, Congress approved the Helms-Burton bill, which further tightened the embargo against Cuba. Whatever its merits, the measure had the possibly unintended effect of halting all Track II initiatives under way or in the planning stages. For sponsors of the bill, this was unimportant. Passage of the measure, Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) intoned, meant "farewell Fidel." Most observers, however, believe that while the revolution is over, the Castro regime is not on the verge of collapse. Unlike Helms-Burton, the Torricelli bill, for all its triumphalist rhetoric, took Castro's durability into account: Track II was about building pressure for reform. The new law will severely restrict the freedom of maneuver for groups or institutions that want to undermine the Castro regime without challenging it head on. And Helms-Burton gives the power to lift the sanctions against Cuba to a Congress with nothing to gain and much to lose from changing a single provision, taking it away from a president who, at least in a second term, might have dared to modify the embargo.
This being an election year in which Democrats see Cuban-Americans in New Jersey as an important swing vote, the administration reversed itself on relaxing relations with Cuba after the Brothers to the Rescue incident, and Clinton signed Helms-Burton. The hardened American line suits the Castro regime perfectly at present. Some even believe Cuba downed the planes in a deliberate effort to secure the passage of Helms-Burton and create a pretext for the crackdown at home. The regime was well aware of the lack of threatening intent on the part of Brothers to the Rescue, since it had at least one infiltrator in the group. But whether or not the conspiracy theorists are right, the hard line of Helms-Burton clearly is far easier for Castro to deal with than the hard-soft policy Nuccio developed for the Clinton administration, which is now in mothballs.
During the years Cuba saw itself as the patron of revolutionary movements in the Americas -- reaching an apogee in 1979 with the Sandinistas in power in Nicaragua and Maurice Bishop in power in Grenada -- American military action was always a distant possibility. Indeed, the more Cuban officials reveal about the scope of these involvements worldwide, the more the Reagan administration's analysis of Cuba seems to be vindicated. But today Cuba is relatively unimportant in Washington, except when it comes to the domestic policy issues of immigrants or Cuban-American lobbying. And the regime, having lost its eagerness to foment revolution, is simply trying to hang on, and perhaps waiting for more favorable conditions to launch new policy initiatives. There are those in Havana who hope that Gennadi Zyuganov, the Communist Party candidate, will win the Russian presidential election in June and restore the old relationship with Cuba, but the more realistic believe that for the moment the regime has no good options. Better to freeze things and hope for more auspicious times.
Within the regime deep anti-Americanism remains, continuing to have the potential to mobilize Cubans in large numbers. As one Cuban dissident, who certainly has no love either for Fidel Castro or for the shambles communism has made of his country's economy, remarked to me, "You may criticize the policies we have embarked upon, but were we to choose another way, we would have to compromise our sovereignty. I mean we would have to give you Americans too much of a say in our affairs. Beyond that, even assuming you are right in everything you say -- and these days, sometimes I am of the opinion that you are -- you Americans, with your history of meddling in our affairs and trying to dominate us, simply do not have the moral standing to be the ones to deliver the judgment."
The problem for Castro is that with the disintegration of the Soviet empire, the Americans have never been stronger. During the rafters crisis in the summer of 1994, when tens of thousands of Cubans set sail for Florida, the dissident leader Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo quipped that if he were President Clinton he would call Castro and tell him that if he allowed one more rafter to leave, the United States would lift the embargo immediately. "That would have put an end to it, I guarantee you," Gutierrez Menoyo said, laughing. As it turned out, the migratory accords that ended the crisis -- providing for 20,000 immigrant visas annually while doing away with automatic political asylum for Cubans -- which Cuba has scrupulously abided by although another crisis is not unthinkable, were to Cuba's benefit, serving as a safety valve for disgruntled citizens. But it is not clear what Castro's reaction to a lifting of the embargo would be even in the unlikely event the U.S. government asked for no quid pro quo, no moves toward democratization or multiparty elections or any of its other minimum demands. Doubtless the Maximum Leader would celebrate his victory, but he would look for ways to limit the effect of the end of the heroic struggle with the United States.
But all this is academic after the shooting down of the planes and the deaths of the four Brothers to the Rescue inside. That has changed everything. Even remittances from Miami have slumped, although Cuban officials speak confidently of a rebound within a few months. On the island, things are fractionally worse, with declines in new foreign investment. But that is not a reason for anyone to expect the Castro regime to fall. As one Cuban remarked to me, "There is one institution in this country that really does function properly. It's called State Security. And as long as it is loyal to the regime, people will prefer to keep their heads down, dream of moving to Miami, or just go on trying to get by."