End of a spring romance

This spring has seen the burgeoning of a tentative romance, and its conclusion. There is not to be a reconciliation between the United States and Fidel Castro's Cuba - at least not this season.

Beginning the day after tomorrow American tourists will once more find it difficult to see for themselves what life is like in Cuba under Fidel Castro's brand of communism. Reporters and government officials will still be able to travel to Cuba, if they are welcome there. But plain US citizens are, in effect, being asked by Washington to take their tourist dollars elsewhere.

The tentative romance began in early March when US Gen. Vernon A. Walters, former deputy director of the US Central Intelligence Agency and now a semi-official roaming special ambassador for the Reagan White House, spent four hours in Havana with Cuba's Fidel Castro. Following the ''secret'' Walters visit word went to Washington through Mexico that Senor Castro is ready for more talks which could lead to a more normal relationship between Washington and Havana.

Tentative proposals for such ''normalization'' went back and forth between Havana and Washington during the balance of March. But by mid-April it must have become clear in Washington that real progress was unlikely. Either that, or Washington wanted to raise the ante. On April 19 Washington announced the reimposition of restraints on tourist travel and a general tightening of the US trade embargo against Cuba, to take effect on May 15.

Why did the romance suffer so quickly from a late spring freeze?

There is no official explanation. The real explanation is that Washington and Havana mean different things by ''nor-malization.''

Washington wants two things above all else. It wants an end to Cuban support for left-wing insurgencies in other Latin American countries. And it wants an end to Soviet ties with Cuba.

Probably Senor Castro would be willing to sell these two commodities to Washington, at a sufficient price. But his price is bound to come high.

These are advantages to him. He is certainly not going to give them up for little or nothing.

What does he want from Washington? The very least he would have to have would be a substitute for the $8 million a day which he receives now from Moscow.

Is Washington ready and willing to pay him, or allow him to earn from favorable terms of trade, that much of a subsidy from the US?

It would presumably have to mean a number of economic concessions including allowing Cuban sugar back into the US market on favorable terms. But the sugar market in the US is already adequately supplied. Letting in Cuban sugar would be an economic disadvantage to domestic US sugar growers, particularly in Louisiana.

What Washingtonians may not always appreciate is that Mr. Castro has got a good thing going right now and could not afford to let it go without what for him would be adequate compensation.

In his present situation he enjoys a degree of influence and importance in the world which the leaders of small countries may enjoy in their rosiest dreams , but seldom achieve in real life.

He sends his soldiers to far corners of the world. He is courted by the diplomats of important countries. He is a prominent figure in world councils. He is extremely important to the other superpower, the USSR, which is happy to pay him $8 million a day to keep him out of the US camp and on Moscow's side in the great game of power politics. Besides, Cuba provides a lovely rest and recreation haven for Soviet soldiers and sailors from the wintry frosts of Russia and Siberia.

What happens to Cuba and Fidel Castro if he does deal with the US? They simply settle back into being backyard economic dependencies of Washington. There would be no more Cuban troops in Angola or Ethiopia, no more dramas on the world stage with Senor Castro playing a lead role, no more willing subsidies.

Instead, Havana would once more become a winter tourist resort for US Americans - and not necessarily the elite of the tourist world either. And Cuba's economy would depend heavily again on the price of sugar in the US market.

Senor Castro has enjoyed 22 years of what to him have been glory days. He has left a glittering trail across the world stage. However much one may dislike him , he cuts quite a figure in events. Why give all that up to become just another minor satellite in the US orbit?

A deal between Washington and Cuba could be possible if and when Washington realizes that Mr. Castro has probably more to lose than gain from doing a deal. As yet, the offer is not high enough.

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