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  • Third World Communism in CrisisCastro's Last Stand
  • Carlos Alberto Montaner (bio)

In October 1987, when no one was yet predicting the imminent collapse of the world's Marxist regimes, I spoke at a symposium in New York entitled "Will the Communist States Survive: The View from Within." My lecture assessed the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Castro regime at the time.

I noted eight sources of weakness: 1) the general feeling of "temporariness" and need for change then current in Cuba; 2) the abysmal economic situation; 3) the government's patent exhaustion; 4) the African wars in which Castro had entangled his country; 5) the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev and his policy of perestroika; 6) the absence of a truly hegemonic communist party; 7) the devastating effect of Radio Martí; and 8) Cuba's geographical distance from the USSR.

On the other side of the balance, I pointed out five things that were helping to reinforce Castro's position: 1) The USSR's continuing support; 2) what at that time still seemed like the irreversible character of communist revolutions; 3) the regime's highly efficient apparatus of repression; 4) the international perception of Cuban communism as an immovable phenomenon; and 5) the absence of a viable alternative in the opposition.

That was my assessment in the autumn of 1987. Now, nearly three years later, it is interesting to observe that of the eight weaknesses, six have intensified, while only one (the African entanglement) is on the [End Page 71] way out and the other (the distance from the USSR) has, curiously, begun to militate in favor of Castro rather than against him.

As for Castro's strengths, there is no doubt that they have all diminished somewhat since 1987. Soviet economic and political support have clearly declined and may dip still further; communism is in retreat over most of the world and in many places has collapsed forever; the Cuban state's repressive apparatus has been shaken following the July 1989 firing-squad executions of General Arnoldo Ochoa and eight high-ranking officers; and the notion that Castroism is somehow invulnerable has given way to precisely the opposite view. The question now being asked both within and without Cuba is not whether Castro will fall, but when he will fall. Finally, the opposition to Castro now has a visible head inside Cuba, the lawyer Gustavo Arcos Bergnes. A human rights activist who became a hero of the fight against the dictator Batista in the 1950s, Arcos remains one today for his brave battle against Castro's totalitarianism.

No analysis of the situation in Cuba today can leave out the remarkable political developments that have recently occurred in Latin America. When the United States invaded Panama and overthrew General Manuel Noriega in December 1989, Castro lost a trading partner and ally who was most useful in three fundamental respects. Panama furnished the entrepôt through which Castro easily violated the U.S. embargo; the sanctuary from which he supplied the Colombian M-19 guerrillas; and the place where he conducted shady dealings aimed at smuggling illegal immigrants and narcotics into the United States.

Politically, the Panama invasion could hardly have been worse for Castro. For more than a year, the Special Troops of the Cuban Interior Ministry had been training Noriega's "Dignity Battalions" to offer fierce resistance to the United States. The idea was to show the world the picture of a small but proud nation bravely defying a bullying empire.

But things did not happen that way. Less than an hour after the invasion began, its crucial battles had gone in favor of the United States. This was a result, moreover, which the people of Panama heartily applauded: polls later confirmed that more than 90 percent of them endorsed the U.S. intervention. For Cuba, it was a military and political defeat of enormous proportions. It is also possible that the costs to Castro will mount as Noriega's trial for drug trafficking proceeds and the Cuban dictator's ties to this illicit commerce come to light.

Two months later, Castroism suffered another severe blow with the defeat of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in the...


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