Despite close ties with Moscow, Havana balks at pursuing glasnost
Even in Cuba, the Soviet magazine Moscow News never used to attract much of an audience. But suddenly the weekly has become required reading, as Cubans flock to their news kiosks to learn about reforms in the Soviet Union that they do not dream of at home. For, as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urges his policies of political and economic ``renovation'' on Moscow's allies, Cuba has proved reluctant to follow suit.Skip to next paragraph
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Communist government officials here are publicly wary when asked what they think about the Soviet stress on glasnost (``openness'') and perestroika (``reform''). But behind the scenes, foreign diplomats and senior Communist Party members say privately, the Cuban leadership is keeping a close and concerned eye on developments in Moscow.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro has referred over the past few months only vaguely to Mr. Gorbachev's major new direction. In his most recent major speech, Mr. Castro showed little enthusiasm.
``We are not obliged to copy ... the socialist countries' experience,'' he told a meeting of small farmers last month. ``Often when you get into the habit of copying, you make grave mistakes.''
Deputy Foreign Minister Ricardo Alarcon explains, ``We don't like to comment on the ways each country chooses to construct socialism. The form in which it is established is entirely a matter for that country. There are real cultural, physical, and economic differences between socialist countries.''
``We have to maintain a correct balance between the value of foreign experiences'' and the Cuban government's own methods, Mr. Alarcon adds.
For the past year, Cuba has been engaged in a grand Castro-inspired campaign for ``the rectification of errors and struggle against negative tendencies.'' This has involved tightening central control of the economy and emphasizing a revolutionary's moral duty to work harder and more efficiently.
Castro enlisted the help of the press in this campaign last year, and in a move bearing some resemblance to glasnost urged journalists to give more critical coverage of events. But Cuban journalists have shown themselves far less bold than their Soviet colleagues, and their freedom of action seems limited.
``This is not a Czechoslovakian 1968-style liberalization of the press,'' cautions Julio Garc'ia, the president of the Journalists Union. ``This process is being carried out within the revolution, and within our concept of a socialist press.''
In practice, that means that the mass media carry some criticism of individual factory managers, for example, and report instances of waste or inefficiency. But when Mr. Garc'ia was asked to recall a big story that reporters had broken themselves, from their own investigation, he came up empty handed.
``The problem,'' suggests a foreign resident here, ``is that Fidel is the only investigative journalist in the country.''
On the economic front, ``rectification'' has meant greater government control, taking back from enterprise managers responsibilities they had been given in the past, and clamping down on the beginnings of a free market that had emerged.
This policy, Western diplomats here point out, runs directly counter to Gorbachev's current initiative.