Our Man in Havana
BENENSON From PETER
AFTER five and a quarter hours' orating in front of TV cameras Fidel Castro pushed through the cheering crowds, still waiting at 3 a.m., to spend the rest of the night concluding his mono- logue at a friend's house. During the course of his
TV appearance, which I was watching in the studio, he had formulated several new items of Government policy, to the surprise of his ministers Present; expelled the Spanish Ambassador; and made the President of the Republic come to the microphone to confirm the expulsion there and then.
-Twenty days had passed since Castro's last TV appearance—by his standards a long time—and the crowd that night expected ructions. The young revolutionaries are still craving for excitement, and Castro rarely fails to provide it. He has made his TV appearances the best show in town; Havana's exotic floor-shows, claimed as the equals
of Paris and Las Vegas, play to empty houses, yet it needs a great deal of influence (or bluff) to get a studio seat to watch Castro.
Castro's TV technique, apparently spontaneous. Is probably skilfully contrived. The version which Juan Pablo de Lojendio, the expelled Spanish Ambassador, gave to the foreign press is that at I,a.M. he was sitting quietly at home watching the 1V, when he saw Castro attacking him and his government. This, he said, so enraged him that he could not restrain himself from getting into his ear, driving down to the studio, bursting on to the stage and demanding the right to reply. All this is factually correct; but what made such an urbane diplomat behave in a way so patently undiplo- !natio have it may be a lawyer's taste for precedent, yet I ,a private
a shrewd suspicion that Lojendio was given
lip-ofr that he was going to be attacked uy Castro on that programme; and that, if he asked he would be offered a chance to reply. Six months ago the then President of the Republic lost his is Joh in similar circumstances. Denouncing him on l a TV programme, Castro virtually offered him the e right of public reply: yet when the time came for President Urania to appear before the cameras, the crowd had become so enraged that he thought it wiser to hand in his resignation. d.fronically, Lojendio's exit from Havana is entrance linked with President Eisenhower's recent tsltBran _ Cc into Madrid. Cuba's long and bitter a rkuggle to win independence from Spain- sttlleved only sixty years ago—has produced a .corange love-hate relationship with the mother- cultintry. Castro at the moment is pursuing a cal- b, Idled anti-American-sugar-baron policy. But alsleallY, the Americans are not unpopular; after s, they fought to give Cuba freedom, and they nand a lot of tourist money. So Castro cleverly qtrAhed the Spanish flag to the mast of anti- in-eincanism. Within eighteen hours of the 'scene' (v "le TV studio Havana was convulsed• with s'ulonstrations against the wicked American- 13antsh plot to aid the Counter-Revolution. popCastro uses the TV studios for virtually all his tioucy declarations. He has refused to hold elec- curibs for the time being—and in its present mood a certainly could not objectively express her
judgment by ballot. Deprived of a parliamentary platform, reaching out to the countryside for his supporters, Castro relies on TV and radio. Most parliaments have experienced scenes more reminiscent of a preparatory school than a senate; it would be presumptuous for those of us who live in `five-year-ballot-democracies' to condemn the frenetic applause, the wild interventions from the crowd and the feeble attempts of the chairman (delightfully called 'the Mediator') to keep order.
In Cuba, in fact, the TV studio has become the Areopagus of the nation. Several hundred people more than the hall can comfortably hold are regu- larly present while history is made. In a certain way their applause, their cat-calls and their silences influence those decisions. The studio audience; of course, consists almost wholly of revolutionaries, yet they are not the same people each time, Country folk come up specially for a Castro appearance, or those who deposit questions in advance make a point of being there to hear the answer. In this way Castro can not only feel the pulse of his own movement, but he can also speak personally to a far greater body of members than could ever be elected to an Assembly. Castro himself likes the parallel with Athens, but he is careful to add, 'Yes, but Athens ■vithout the slaves.'
Agrarian reform plays the main part in Castro's economic programme. All arable estates over 1,000 acres and ranches over 1,600 acres are being redistributed by roving teams from the Institute of Agrarian Reform (1NRA), which allow the owner to select the parcel of land which he wants to keep, and compensate him for the rest in 41 per cent. twenty-year bonds. It is this rural re- distribution which has brought about the recent deterioration of relations between Cuba and the USA. Americans may complain now that Castro's
anti-Americanism has become intolerable, but they have known all along that Castro and his supporters are bitterly opposed to American `Banana Republicanism.' During the first year of Castro's power the US State Department—wisely guided by an excellent Ambassador, now recalled —was prepared to give Castro's supporters the chance to grow hoarse shouting 'anti-Yankee' slogans. Now that the great American sugar plantation companies, with holdings in one case running to 210,000 acres, are threatened with immediate redistribution, State Department policy has changed. The Sugar Barons have been to work in the lobbies of Congress.
The new attitude of the State Department (shades of Egypt in 1956) is to sit back and wait until Castro is engulfed by the whirlpool of economic chaos. This expectation is likely to prove even falser than the belief that Nasser would collapse once the Suez Canal had been national- ised. Cuba, although largely dependent on the sugar crop, is a rich agricultural island with the world's best tobacco. Even if the USA stops paying its regular sugar subsidy of 4 cents above world prices, Cuba should not find it impossible to make ends meet.
Dr. Ernesto Guevara, Castro's comrade-in- arms, and now President of the National Bank and virtual economic 'dictator,' is an extremely re- sourceful economist, with an appetite for public ownership whetted by the rising difficulties of private enterprise. He claims that the situation is in hand. But, in the last analysis, Castro's power to resist economically depends, like Nasser's, on the immense enthusiasm and unexpected staying power of a freshly emancipated people. The US policy of recalling their Ambassador and threaten- ing to reduce the sugar import quota will only increase Castro's hold on his people, and give him the welcome chance to blame inevitable 'austerity' on Washington. Dulles insured Nasser's life in 1956; Herter is now building Fidel Castro a plat- form which could lift him high over the world's under-nourished peasantry.