The Washington Post
Tuesday, August 13, 2002; Page A09

Defector Warns of 'Social Explosion' in Cuba

Former U.N. Ambassador Cites Skyrocketing Unemployment, Food Shortages in Growing Unrest

By George Gedda
Associated Press

A former Cuban ambassador to the United Nations who recently defected said yesterday that widespread economic problems on the island could produce an
uprising against President Fidel Castro and his system.

Alcibiades Hidalgo, who arrived in South Florida on July 29, said many aspects of daily life in Cuba could produce a "social explosion" at any time.

"There is lot of concern among the elite that this could occur," said Hidalgo, who also served as chief of staff to Defense Minister Raul Castro, brother of the Cuban

One element of the unrest is what he called "skyrocketing unemployment across the country." Food is scarce, and many Cubans must get by on one meal a day, he

If there is an uprising, he said, the top brass of Cuba's military all insist they would use force against the public to preserve the revolution. But he noted that any
high-ranking officer who declined to take such a stand would be immediately purged.

Hidalgo said virtually all Cubans have access to the country's cost-free health care system but many basic medicines have not been available for years.

A slight man with a neatly trimmed beard and mustache, Hidalgo left Cuba on July 21 with 19 others aboard two motorboats. Thirst was his biggest problem on

To discourage his defection, security agents had trailed him virtually nonstop since 1993, when he fell into disfavor with the authorities and was abruptly dismissed
from his U.N. post, he said.

He flew to the District on Sunday from Miami and told his story to a reporter and others who specialize in Cuban affairs. The session was arranged by the Center for
a Free Cuba, a pro-democracy group.

Hidalgo is one of the most important Cuban defectors whose escape has been publicly reported since Gen. Rafael del Pino fled the island in May 1987. Del Pino
was instrumental in the defeat of the U.S.-sponsored invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Hidalgo said his defection has not yet been reported in Cuba's
state-controlled press.

Hidalgo, 56, talked for several hours about his experiences, answering questions with little emotion and without displays of bitterness toward his former Communist
colleagues. He left behind a daughter, Carolina, who lives with her mother, from whom Hidalgo is divorced.

Speaking in Spanish, Hidalgo said Castro, who turns 76 today, has differences with his brother Raul, 71, who is defense minister and the second ranking official in
the Council of State and the Council of Ministers.

Although Raul is the heir apparent, Hidalgo said he drinks too much, has health problems and doesn't sleep much. Fidel, in contrast, takes care of himself, he said.

Raul would be less inclined toward one-man rule than Fidel, would be more disposed toward economic reform and would show greater flexibility in relations with
the United States, Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo got to know Raul Castro well during the 1980s, when he served as his chief of staff. The Cuban military, under Raul's direction, has become an economic
powerhouse through its involvement in tourism and other dollar-generating activities, he said.

When Hidalgo fled the island, he was the No. 2 official at the newspaper Trabajadores, a publication designed to appeal to Cuban workers. He said he decided to
leave because there was no opportunity to espouse views that differ from those of Fidel Castro.

"The first right is the right to independent thought," he said.

Cuba has endured a series of economic blows over the past year. Like other Caribbean islands, Cuba suffered a severe drop in tourism after Sept. 11 and is
recovering from a devastating hurricane that struck Nov. 8.

Hidalgo shares the Bush administration's view that congressional attempts to end curbs on Americans' travel to Cuba, if approved, would be an economic windfall
for Cuba and a "gift for Fidel."

The U.S. economic embargo against Cuba aggravates the island's problems, he said, but he believes Castro's socialist policies are principally to blame, something he
did not say when he was ambassador to the United Nations in 1992-93. Then he followed the party line by identifying the embargo as the culprit.

"The truth," he said Monday, "is otherwise."

Hidalgo disagreed with Cuba's policy of using its U.N. mission as an espionage hub. He estimated that 90 percent of the 50 to 60 personnel working there were
spies, but he was not told details of their activities.

                                               © 2002