It has been 25 years since the bearded man in olive-drab fatigues marched triumphantly into Havana, the “Vivas!” of nearly seven million Cubans ringing in his ears. At 56, Fidel Castro is an aging Marxist with a paunch, who no longer parties till dawn nor harangues his people on the national air waves for eight hours on end. But el maximo lider has not mellowed, only gotten cannier, and perhaps more realistic. “We cannot export revolution,” he tells would-be Communists in Latin American countries. “And you cannot import it. You must foster it.”
To a degree, Castro’s new caution was made mandatory by America’s invasion of Grenada. Handed a quick defeat at the hands of an overwhelming force, Castro had to admit publicly that he lacked the resources to resupply his fighters. Moreover, he conceded, “It’s not our option to be able to” bail out his friends, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, should America move against them. Nervous about U.S. intentions, Suriname ousted 100 Cubans and Nicaragua expelled 2,100 of the reported 5,000 advisers Castro had there. But significantly, the leader who encouraged the Nicaraguans to make the tension-lessening move was Castro himself.
It’s not that Fidel has lowered his sights, just his rhetoric. Last summer even he endorsed the idea of a ban on arms shipments among all Central American states. Despite a few post-Grenada broadsides, Castro has left the cold war of words to Ronald Reagan, who was seen by many Latins as a bully in Grenada. Avoiding the mudslinging has helped the dictator groom his image as Latin America’s socialist paterfamilias, and it could improve his relations with the region’s larger and less radical states, like Venezuela and Colombia. No longer the firebrand but still, observers say, a dedicated subversive, Castro may have discovered that the safest road to revolution is moderation.