Related topics

Cuba Faces Bleak Prospect Of Subsidy Cuts After Soviet Shakeup With AM-Soviet-Politics, Bjt

September 7, 1991

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Cuba has added a key commodity, cooking fuel, to a long list of rationed goods as the communist nation braces for a possible cutoff of Soviet oil.

The Zero Option envisioned by Cuban leader Fidel Castro would plunge the Caribbean nation into a pre-industrial age. Cubans would grow their own food, cut trees for firewood, plow fields with oxen and ride bicycles for transport.

Castro began preparing Cubans for the bleak Zero Option more than a year ago as communist regimes began collapsing across Eastern Europe, dramatically cutting Soviet bloc trade with the Marxist island nation.

Now, after months of austerity, Cubans have grown accustomed to long lines for skimpy food, gasoline and clothing rations. On Thursday, they learned that liquid gas used as cooking fuel also would be rationed.

The news came the same day a new State Council was recognized to govern the Soviet Union as its republics try to form a loose confederation of states in the aftermath of a failed Aug. 18-21 coup.

Even before that bungled coup, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev had made dramatic changes in Moscow’s relationship with Havana.

Thousands of Soviet advisers have been withdrawn from Cuba in recent years as the flow of Soviet oil and other goods began drying up.

Now Soviet leaders are saying it is time to re-examine ties with Cuba, one of the world’s last hard-line communist states. Cuba’s economy has been kept afloat for three decades by its support from Moscow.

But both Gorbachev and Russian President Boris Yeltsin indicated Thursday that such support in the future was unlikely. And Soviet Foreign Minister Boris D. Pankin said it was time to rethink the relationship with Cuba.

Such comments about revamping the relationship have stirred hopes among Castro’s staunchest enemies, Cuban exiles living in the United States, that Castro’s days are numbered.

″Our belief is that this is the beginning of the end of communism in Cuba,″ said Evaldo Dupuy, a spokesman for the Miami-based Cuban-American National Foundation.

Dupuy said there was an anti-Castro demonstration in Havana outside state security headquarters only Friday, although he did not elaborate.

The official Mexican news agency Notimex quoted a Cuban dissident in Havana, Gustavo Arcos, as saying the demonstration was squelched by a pro- Castro crowd.

The United States has made clear it would support a total Soviet cutoff of trade to Cuba.

However, such isn’t likely to happen, since the Moscow-Havana relationship has not been completely one-sided.

Cuba has provided the Soviet Union with an estimated one-third of its sugar and with nickel, citrus and vital military intelligence.

″We are taking what we need - sugar, ferrous metals, citrus fruits,″ Gorbachev said Thursday. ″And in turn, we provide those materials, those raw materials included, which are necessary to Cuba. And I think that’s the way things will develop in the future.″

Some analysts think Cuba is likely to lose its sugar-for-oil arrangement with the Soviets.

″It looks like curtains for the special deal,″ said Lawrence Eagles, a commodity analyst at GNI Ltd. in London.

But it could be harder for the Soviets to give up a listening post only 90 miles from the U.S. mainland.

Most of the Soviet military advisers and technicians still in Cuba are thought to be based at the Lourdes electronic intelligence-gathering facility outside Havana.

″Moscow will find it difficult to dispense with Lourdes, regardless of how distasteful it finds the host government,″ Cuba specialist Gillian Gunn, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, wrote last week.

A Bush administration official in Washington said the combined Soviet presence in Cuba - troops, technicians and military and civilian advisors - numbers about 7,000 personnel.

″The bulk are at Lourdes,″ said the official, who spoke on condition of not being named.

The Soviet presence includes a combat brigade of between 2,600 and 2,800 troops, the official said.

The Soviets began withdrawing civilian advisers last year and now has fewer than 1,000 on the island, many of them workers at a nuclear power plant under construction.

There were an estimated 7,000 civilian advisors in Cuba in 1985, before Gorbachev began changing the Soviet-Cuban relationship.