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Cuba to Follow Own Socialist Path Despite ‘Tragedy’ of Soviet Collapse : Latin America: But the party newspaper appears to accept legitimacy of new anti-Communist leaders in Moscow and the republics.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cuba said Thursday that the collapse of Communist power in the Soviet Union is a “tragedy” that spells greater hardship for the Cuban people but vowed to stick to its own orthodox socialist course.

“It is impossible to deny that these are unfortunate and bitter moments which we would prefer never to have experienced, but we were, and we are, prepared for the worst,” said an emotional front-page editorial in Granma, Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper.

The statement was Havana’s first official comment on the collapse of the hard-line Moscow coup a week ago and the disgrace of the Communist Party leadership there. The Soviet military hierarchy and KGB secret police were Cuban President Fidel Castro’s closest Kremlin allies for three decades.

Blaming “frantic anti-communism” for the destruction of icons of the Russian Revolution and the toppling of statues of V. I. Lenin and other Soviet heroes, Granma said, “We cannot celebrate this tragedy as many Western leaders are doing.”

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Castro has yet to send a public message to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who was overthrown and then restored after the failure of the three-day putsch, or to Boris N. Yeltsin, the elected Russian Federation president who led popular resistance to the putsch and emerged as Moscow’s most powerful figure.

But the editorial appeared to accept the legitimacy of emerging anti-Communist leaders in Moscow and in the increasingly independent Soviet republics. Havana, it said, will deal with “whatever republics, companies or organizations” end up controlling the extensive Soviet ties with Cuba.

Soviet republics supply 90% of Cuba’s petroleum and 70% of its imports, mainly grain, canned food and machinery. Cuba saves precious hard currency by bartering its sugar, citrus fruits and nickel for 700 Soviet products under a $3.8-billion trade pact that expires at the end of this year. The Soviets have an electronic listening post in Cuba and supply weapons and spare parts to Cuba’s army.

Soviet oil deliveries have already shrunk by a quarter in the last two years, creating a severe economic crisis in Cuba. Yeltsin, whose Russian Federation produces most of that oil, was elected in May on a platform opposing assistance to Havana. Gorbachev said Wednesday that Moscow-Havana relations are under review.

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“In the short and medium term, the difficulties that we have been facing could get much worse,” the Cuban editorial said. But it rejected the Soviet march toward a market economy, calling socialism “the most just, humane and rational society ever conceived by man.”

Castro has been warning Cubans for two years to prepare for an apocalypse in the Soviet Union. His government last spring ordered factories and farms to prepare for life without electricity or tractors in the event of the “zero option"--a total cutoff of Soviet supplies.

Cuban and Soviet trade officials, interviewed in Havana last month before the coup, said that moment should not come. They predicted that substantial trade would continue because both sides need each other’s products and lack hard currency to buy them elsewhere. The Soviet republics, under pressure to feed their people this winter, would pay far higher prices for sugar and citrus outside Cuba.

“It would be in the Soviet republics’ rational self-interest to maintain some links with Cuba,” said Gillian Gunn, a Cuban specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “But if their leaders are driven by a wave of anti-Cuban sentiment among their people, they might cut off their nose to spite their face.”

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