Drug Issue Raised in Havana Talks : Castro and Gorbachev Reportedly Seek Fresh Approach

Times Staff Writer

Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev began his first full day of talks with Cuban President Fidel Castro on Monday amid indications that the two may be looking for a fresh approach to fighting the growing flow of drugs from Latin America.

During their first 90 minutes of formal talks in the morning, both Gorbachev and Castro addressed the drug problem, according to Soviet spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov, who sketchily described the meeting to reporters afterward.

Gorbachev believes “something must be done,” Gerasimov said, even though “Colombia is a long way from Moscow.”


But he said it was Castro who first raised the drug issue. Characterizing the Cuban Communist leader’s remarks, Gerasimov said:

‘Even More Dangerous’

“But for the United States’ market, the narcotics business would be dead. Now those who supply the market have become consumers, and that is even more dangerous.”

He said Castro seemed especially distressed by the spread of drug use among Latin American youth and appeared anxious to do something about it.

U.S. officials have long expressed the hope that Cuba will do its share in the drug war by at least cracking down on traffickers they say now fly with impunity over the island country to drop cocaine shipments destined for North America.

In the absence of diplomatic relations, the United States has not formally asked for cooperation, nor has Castro volunteered it.

According to Gerasimov, Gorbachev told Castro that even though the drug crisis is a long way from Moscow, he, too, is anxious to do more, “under the auspices of the United Nations,” to fight it. By stressing the drugs aspect of the talks between the two Communist leaders, the Soviet spokesman appeared to be suggesting that they may do more than simply talk about it.


During the first day of the first visit by a Soviet leader here since the late Leonid I. Brezhnev came in 1974, Gorbachev and Castro held an hour-and-a-half of formal “negotiations,” as Gerasimov described the talks, and another two hours of “private” face-to-face discussion. Cuban officials have been careful to describe the meetings as “conversations” to avoid the implication that they have any issues to negotiate.

The pair also chatted informally and sometimes animatedly at several ceremonial appearances, including a wreath laying at the monument to 19th-Century Cuban independence hero Jose Marti in downtown Havana and a tour of ExpoCuba, a newly constructed permanent trade fairground. But their remarks could not be overheard by spectators.

Despite a reported strain in their relations brought on by orthodox Marxist Castro’s rejection of Soviet-style political and economic reforms under Gorbachev’s programs of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), there was little open evidence of a rift between the two men. However, Moscow-based journalists did note that Gorbachev appeared to have adopted a somewhat cool manner toward Castro that was noticeably more polite and businesslike than the amiable public personality he has displayed while visiting other countries such as Britain and the United States.

In his one public remark to reporters at the wreath laying, Gorbachev diplomatically evaded a question about how perestroika should apply to Cuba by replying with a Russian play on words, using perestroika to mean “these are times of change (restructuring)” rather than its specific application to reforms in the Communist system.

In their formal talks, the two men avoided specific problems facing Latin America other than its “enormous debt” problem, said Gerasimov. “The situation in Latin America is a burning one,” he said, referring to the debt burden of many of the Latin countries.

Speaking to a small group of American reporters later, Gerasimov hinted that Gorbachev may make a public show of forgiving Cuba’s estimated $9-billion to $20-billion debt to the Soviet Union when he makes his only major speech of the three-day visit at the Cuban National Assembly this afternoon. Diplomats here anticipated such a move as an inexpensive gesture designed to pressure Western nations into forgiving their own Third World debt.


But the other burning question of the Gorbachev trip--what he might have to say about Central America, where the Soviets fund the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and Cuba supports El Salvador rebels--remained unanswered. Gerasimov said the two men touched on the subject but did not get into a detailed discussion.

Analysts had speculated before Gorbachev’s arrival here Sunday that the Soviet leader might unveil a fresh peace plan for Central America in response to pleas last week from President Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III for “new thinking” about the region, including an end to Nicaragua military aid. Referring to news reports of Bush’s message to Gorbachev, Gerasimov said only that “I believe the subject will be discussed.”

Later he told American reporters that Moscow opposes exporting revolution, long a staple of Cuban foreign policy.

‘Indigenous Revolutions’

“‘This exportation is what we are against,” Gerasimov said. “Like Cuba, these are indigenous revolutions that start at home. . . . You cannot make other peoples happy (by exporting it to them.)”

Gorbachev’s wife, Raisa, wearing the same pale blue dress, snakeskin shoes and simple necklace that she had on when they arrived Sunday, accompanied the Soviet leader to the wreath-laying ceremony and placed her own bouquet of red roses beneath his more elaborate display at the foot of the monument.

After visiting the Soviet-Cuba Friendship Assn. and a child day-care center, she changed her jewelry for a more elaborate silver necklace and bracelet before touring the former home of American writer Ernest Hemingway, now a museum, at San Francisco de Paula near Havana. Expressing a fondness for the author’s works, she named “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Old Man and the Sea” as particular favorites and said, “It is impossible for me to think of a cultured person who hasn’t read Hemingway.”