Cuba

A spy in the ointment

William Lowther April 21 1980
Cuba

A spy in the ointment

William Lowther April 21 1980

A spy in the ointment

Cuba

As Cuba’s Fidel Castro struggled to salvage some pride from last week’s fiasco at the Peruvian embassy in Havana—where about 10,000 of his countrymen crowded the compound after voting with their feet against Cuba’s chronic unemployment problem—there were indications that he might be getting some help from an unusual quarter: former Soviet master spy Kim Philby.

Intelligence sources in Washington say that Philby has been in Havana several times recently and may be giving Castro guidance on how to run his propaganda machine. If that is true, it may well have been Philby who was behind Castro’s dismissal of his dissenting countrymen as a “bunch of common delinquents, anti-socials, vagrants and bums” whom Cuba would be glad to see leave.

Philby, onetime head of British counterintelligence, fled to Moscow in 1963 after admitting his role as a Soviet agent. But he continued to keep up with old friends, among them novelist Graham Greene, himself a wartime mem-

ber of British intelligence. And in a recent interview, Greene told the London Sunday Times'. “I think they’re keeping Kim pretty busy now. The last postcard I had from him came from Havana.”

It is probably no coincidence that, early this year, Radio Moscow began broadcasting in English on a frequency

of 600 kilohertz from Havana. The programs are aimed at the United States, and intelligence officials there believe Philby, who once did a stint in Washington liaising with the CIA, may be a consultant.

Castro certainly has been in great need of public relations advice. Last December he gave a 62-page secret speech to the National People’s Government Assembly in which he charged that the revolution, now 21 years old, is plagued

with street crime, worker absenteeism, high unemployment and symptoms of corruption. Cuba would be bankrupt if the Soviet Union did not give it $3 billion in economic aid each year. And even that is hardly enough. Last month

26,000 workers were laid off when all cigar factories were closed after 90 per cent of the country’s tobacco harvest failed because of disease. Rationing is stringent. Cubans get only 12 ounces of meat every 10 days and IV2 ounces of coffee a week, and such economic hardship has caused much unrest.

For years Castro has argued with other Latin nations over the policy of

political asylum. Last week, in a fit of pique, he took his guards away from the front of the Peruvian embassy, a favorite refuge, and said that a handful of Cubans hiding inside were free to leave the country. The announcement had spectacular effects. Within two days,

10,000 Cubans had sought sanctuary

and were demanding the right to emigrate—a rare privilege.

By week’s end most of the refugees were still there living in squalor, sleeping on the grass, in trees and even on the embassy roof as Peru (see box) and other Andean Pact nations tried to organize an airlift. William Lowther

William Lowther