HAVANA — Near the end of his Cuban visit, Mikhail Gorbachev was asked at a press conference if he would use his ``privileged relationship'' with the United States to intercede on Cuba's behalf to normalize relations. Before the Soviet leader could answer, President Fidel Castro leaped to the microphone to castigate the reporter for asking what he saw as an impertinent question.
The scene emphasized the discomfort that Mr. Gorbachev's new style is causing Castro, who remains a proponent of orthodox communism and opposes ``capitalist'' tendencies. Gorbachev, on the other hand, came across here as very much a pragmatic socialist.
However, those observers who might have been expecting public criticism of Castro by his Soviet benefactor were disappointed. While a trade and cooperation pact was signed until the year 2000, Soviet officials made no public promises guaranteeing continuation of the favorable terms of trade Cuba has enjoyed for 29 years.
By this silence, analysts say, Gorbachev sent a message to Castro: that perestroika has put all commitments under review, and Cuba is no exception. But before leaving Wednesday for Britain, Gorbachev declared his desire to expand relations with Latin America in general.