Washington — The glare of media attention continues to be focused on the desperate Cuban refugees struggling to get to southern Florida. They are arriving daily, and the total is not in sight.
In attempting to measure the largest significance of this momentous development, it strikes me that we are looking at the wrong place.
The plight of the Cuban refugees is news, but the plight of Cuba under Castro is bigger news. That's where to look for its meaning.
I think it is not going too far to suggest that we are witnessing the beginning of the serious decay of the Castro regime.
If this be true -- and it would be unwise to ignore the possibility -- then it is none too soon for the United States to be ready to deal with what could likely follow when the Castro dictatorship begins to erode.
Dare we believe that the Soviet Union will permit its Cuban client -- from whose military services it has profited so much and which it has kept afloat with several billion dollars in yearly subsidies -- to slip from its grip? It has never willingly let a subject state break away.
Tito's Yugoslavia is the only exception, and at the time, more than three decades ago, there was nothing Stalin could do about it. When Czechoslovakia sought to put a more humane face on its communism, Soviet tanks blazed into Prague to put a stop to it. When Hungarian communists thought they might get a little more freedom for their country, the Red Army crossed its frontier to crush the "freedom fighters" ruthlessly. And when the pro-Soviet puppet government the Soviets installed in Kabul showed it could not put down popular resistance to its rule, Moscow invaded Afghanistan with nearly 100,000 troops to take over the country.
None can foresee how near Cuba is to becoming a Soviet "Afghanistan" in the Western Hemisphere. I submit it is not safe nor realistic to assume that it will not be attempted. The ingredients are bubbling to make it seem tempting and attainable to the men in the Kremlin.
Fidel Castro is himself the most revealing spokesman of how bad conditions in Cuba have become. In a speech delivered several months ago and only lately available outside Havana, he frankly told his people that the economic plight of the country has become "intolerable" (his word). His brother described it as a "mess" and blamed it on Castro. Now Raul has been dropped from the Cabinet and Fidel has taken over the Ministries of Defense, Interior, Culture, and Health. How many more of Castro's prescriptions can rectify the "mess" and make it less "intolerable" is not clear.
Castro said candidly he could hold out no promise things would get better. Probably he had no choice other than to admit the worst, because he knew that ten million Cubans know what is happening to their lives.
"We are in a terrible world crisis," he said over and over again and admitted he could do little to improve the situation. He said only "small steps" were open to him, and he praised the Russians for doing so much for him.
The question has to be asked: Can the United States, whoever is president, safely allow the Soviet Union to thrust its empire within 90 miles of the American shore?
We forced the Soviet Union to remove its nuclear missiles from Cuba in 1962. After first stating that we would not accept Moscow's placing of a Soviet brigade of troops with offensive weapons in Cuba, we acquiesced.
I don't see how we could expect the Kremlin to consider the Castro regime expendable. It would be prudent to expect that it would do all it could to keep it in its grip for a lot of different purposes.
Therefore, at the very least, we better decide well in advance what we intend to do if the worst develops -- and be ready to do it.