Cuba, the US, and the Central American Mess

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro; drawing by David Levine

A few months ago, one of us, Seweryn Bialer, explored with high Cuban officials the possibility of holding a meeting with Cuban and US experts on international relations to discuss questions of mutual interest. The initial plan was to meet in the United States. The Cubans agreed and presented a list of names for their proposed delegation, composed of top Party and government advisers; however, the US State Department refused to grant visas to the Cubans. Thereupon, the Cubans suggested that the meeting be held in Havana. In early April, we were both part of a delegation of ten American specialists on international relations who went for five days to Havana to take part in a conference that lasted for two days. We also held discussions both individually and as a group with Cuban senior foreign-policy officials, advisers to the Party, and government and academic experts. The conference and discussions centered on four broad topics:

1) an evaluation of the international situation, particularly the state of East-West relations;

2) Soviet-Cuban relations, with special emphasis on the African continent;

3) US-Cuban relations, with emphasis on Central America; and

4) the Caribbean Basin initiative of President Reagan.

During their stay in Cuba, the Americans met with a number of high government and Party officials, including Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, vice-president and deputy prime minister, and a member of the Politburo. The discussions were intensive, serious, and at times brutally frank. According to the Cubans, the last time they met with a similar delegation was in 1976 (and the US participants think that this was the first exchange ever held with US specialists on Soviet and communist affairs). What follows are our impressions of the exchange with the Cubans.


We went to Cuba at a time when the war of nerves between the US and Cuba was becoming dangerously acute. The members of our delegation, composed of specialists with widely differing political views, felt that the results of the exchange should be carefully studied in Washington. The initial reaction of the Reagan administration as far as we can judge has been uniformly negative. Instead of probing the seriousness of the Cuban overtures for improved relations that have been made both publicly and in our discussions, the administration chose in mid-April to introduce stringent new measures to tighten the embargo against Cuba, cutting off regular air flights from Miami and restricting visits from the US to the island, among other measures. Before further discussion is foreclosed we think it would be useful to analyze our exchanges with the Cubans to explore whether they point to new opportunities to avoid confrontation in Central America.

The mood we sensed among the Cuban foreign-policy experts and officials we met seemed to be based on contradictory feelings; and it is precisely the contradictions in Cuban attitudes that we found fascinating. Because their state of mind defies simplification, generalizations are difficult.…

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