Vice President Bush gave a bleak account of conditions in Cuba yesterday after meeting with the Cuban general who defected to the United States on May 28.
Rafael del Pinåo Diaz, believed to be the highest-ranking Cuban officer to flee to this country, described mass desertions in the Cuban military, rampant corruption among the island's elite, and a failed economy that shows "little hope of recovery," Bush said.
The meeting, which took place at Bush's residence on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory, came 10 days after Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), a rival of Bush for the GOP presidential nomination, demanded that the administration make public information del Pinåo has provided during weeks of debriefings by U.S. intelligence.
Kemp had hoped del Pinåo's testimony would underscore the severity of the communist threat in Angola and Central America, but Bush's briefing emphasized the weakness of the Castro regime and revealed little about the information del Pinåo is providing.
According to Bush, del Pinåo said Cuba's continuing military intervention in Angola "is extremely unpopular inside Cuba." The government's failure to bring soldiers killed in Angola home for burial "causes great strain on the families of the young men that die far away not really knowing why they gave their lives," he said.
Bush quoted the general as saying that 56,000 Cuban soldiers have deserted in the last three years, and he said del Pinåo confirmed that Cuban air crews have been shot down over Nicaragua.
Del Pinåo related that Fidel Castro's regime has resisted Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's program of reform and that tensions between Moscow and Havana have resulted, Bush said.
Bush described del Pinåo, who was kept from reporters during the visit, as "very, very knowledgeable about the setup in Cuba" and "extremely credible."
Contrary to earlier accounts that had identified del Pinåo as the deputy chief of staff for the entire Cuban military, Bush said the general had been deputy to the commander of Cuban air defenses. He said the general and his family, who fled Cuba in a small Cessna, intend to remain in this country and that the general is considering writing a book about his native land.