Jesse Jackson's visit here next week gives Cuban President Fidel Castro a fresh opportunity to talk to the United States - not officially, of course, but in ways that may be just as effective.
For one thing, the visit of the Democratic presidential hopeful is certain to get a good play on the evening news programs of the three major television networks in the US for three consecutive nights.
With Cuban-US relations in the doldrums - and no likelihood of any early improvement - the Jackson visit affords the Cubans an opportunity to leap over the Reagan administration and go directly to the US public with any message they wish to send.
It is not clear, however, that President Castro has decided just what that message will be.
Nor is it clear what the Cubans hope the Jackson visit, which begins June 25, will achieve. But they regard it as a major event in their struggle with Washington.
In his campaign speeches, Jackson has called for restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba and has criticized Democratic candidates Walter Mondale and Gary Hart for not following suit. Jackson has said it is inconsistent for the US to have relations with China and the Soviet Union, but not with Cuba.
Jackson received Castro's invitation to visit June 2, and immediately accepted. Jackson's two-day visit in Cuba is part of longer trip scheduled to take him to El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama, as well.
Although Cuba considers the Jackson visit important, it does not expect the visit to make any headway in resolving the major differences between Havana and Washington - issues like Central America and the two nations' roles there, the Cuban presence in Africa, and the Soviet military presence here.
Even though Jackson may agree, in part, with Cuban views on Central America, where he favors a US military pullout, the Cubans know their visitor is speaking only as a private citizen, although an important one.
They know, moreover, that the US public and the US Congress have, with some reservations, tended to go along with the Reagan administration on most Central American issues.
The question for the Cubans is how to use the Jackson visit to their advantage and to get across the message that they feel the US is making a drastic historical mistake in Central America.
At the same time, the Jackson visit raises some danger for the Cubans. Despite offical Cuban pleasure thatufnj,20p4CASTROCASTROufmrk,53lJackson is coming here, seeing him as something of an ally in their squabbles with Washington, they know that too warm an embrace for the Democratic contender might backfire on them both.
Cuba could be accused of meddling in the US domestic policy - an accusation that has been made before - if it seems to be using the Jackson visit for a major attack on the United States.
Thus, there is a strong hunch here that the welcome accorded the Democratic leader will be cordial, but at the same time a bit restrained.
Concern here over the visit settles also on the Olympics. Cubans know that Jackson is likely to call publically for Casto to reverse his decision to boycott the summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Such a Jackson plea, made public, could prove a bit embarrassing to the Cuban leadership. Although Cuban officials say privately there is no chance that Castro will accept such a plea, there is no masking the disappointment among the sports-loving Cuban people that their athletes will not compete in this year's games.
Cuban athletes, who have been training for two years for games, have generally accepted the official decision not to participate. Charges that Cuban athletes could not be sure of their safety in Los Angeles have been widely publicized here.
But the disappointment remains among both the athletes, who might have won a number of medals, and the public. A Jackson plea for Cuba to come to the games would no doubt fan that disappointment.
These concerns notwithstanding, there is a clear air of official enthusiasm here over the Jackson visit.
Preparations were under way this week, with Cuban and US officials meeting to iron out details. The visit brings to Cuban shores a strange sight: US secret servicemen charged with guarding Jackson.
They are likely to keep a low profile in this nation where the US has only limited diplomatic ties. But the agents will be present nevertheless.
So will some 80 to 120 newspaper, radio and television people and much Cuban attention is focused on preparing for their visit.
Speaking on the presence of this large press contingent, a Western European diplomat said:
''It's a great opportunity for Fidel to have free access to the front page of the New York Times and the three nightly network news programs - all at the same time. You can bet he will use the opportunity wisely.''
Another diplomat from Latin America adds:
''Castro is certain to come across as very presidential, cordial and warm - far from the image sometimes seen in the US as a fiery orator who bombasts his way through long speeches.''