FOR most of this month a huge Cuban delegation will be trying to project friendship and carve out a positive image for Cuba at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis. There are about 650 on the team, 450 of them described as athletes, while the rest are support personnel. It is a fair bet that a goodly number are agents of the Cuban intelligence service, and a very good bet indeed that one of their functions is to forestall defections.
This is probably the largest official Cuban entourage permitted to enter the United States since Fidel Castro assumed power. Dr. Castro places high emphasis on sports as a means to create a positive image for his regime abroad.
This benign image in Indianapolis is in striking contrast, however, to the twisted line being fed Cubans at home about the evils of the US. For the past three weeks, Cuba's government-controlled press and TV have been running a series focusing on alleged US aggression toward Cuba, including charges that Washington has waged bacteriological warfare against Cuba.
Castro's broadcasting machine says the US sent a virus to Cuba that caused a dengue epidemic affecting more than 300,000 people and killing several hundred. The television series also accuses the US of implanting swine fever in Cuba that killed substantial numbers of livestock. US bacteriological warfare is also supposed to have poisoned Cuba's sugar cane crop.
Meanwhile, Cuban TV and newspapers have published the names and photographs of US officials, and some of their wives, serving in the diplomatic outpost the US maintains in Havana. They are accused of being spies, or even of being involved in a plot to assassinate Castro. The US has protested strongly against this action.
In part, all this may be intended to divert the attention of Cubans from mounting problems at home, mainly in the economic field.
Castro has been particularly troubled by a couple of key defections, especially that of Cuban Air Force Gen. Rafael del Pino D'iaz, who flew to Florida in a small plane in May. General del Pino has been broadcasting back to Cuba over Radio Mart'i, the Voice of America subsidiary aimed at Cuba. All the evidence is that audiences for his remarks have been large and that Castro is much angered by them.
Radio Mart'i has also broadcast an interview with another defector, Florentino Azpillaga, said to be a key Cuban intelligence officer. Mr. Azpillaga is quoted as saying that key members of the Cuban intelligence community have for the past three years been discussing what to do about corruption in Cuba. Azpillaga paints an unflattering picture of Castro's own luxury-filled existence, including houses, yachts, and a Swiss bank account.
Thus, while Cuba seeks a better press at the Pan American Games, the reality is that relations between Cuba and the US are at a low point.
On the one hand, Castro rails at Washington and blames it for many of Cuba's problems. There is little indication from the Cuban side of any move toward better relations.
On the other hand, Washington remembers a long list of Cuban misdeeds.
A key question is whether Cuban mischiefmaking is diversionary or represents a deep-seated hostility on the part of Castro.
Particularly interesting is a letter from Castro carefully preserved and on display in the Museum of the Revolution in Havana. Written in 1958, when Castro was still battling Fulgencio Batista, it says: ``...I swore to myself that the North Americans were going to pay dearly for what they are doing. When this war is over, a much wider war will begin for me: the war I am going to wage against them. I am aware that is my true destiny.''
How Castro sees his destiny is a critical factor in his unfolding relationship with the US.