CUBA: Turning Tough

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Career Diplomat Philip Wilson Bonsai took on his new post as U.S. Ambassador to Cuba last February full of high hopes and the desire to "get to know Fidel Castro personally." He at first counseled patience with Castro's erratic behavior. But for the past three months, while U.S. citizens were arrested by whim and the $850 million U.S. investment in Cuba was threatened with confiscatory decrees,

Ambassador Bonsai has found himself in a diplomatic vacuum, unable to get in even once to present his views to Castro. Last week, his own patience gone, Bonsai finally forced a meeting with Castro by announcing that he was off to Washington next week for what the State Department called "more than routine consultations," i.e., to work out a stiff new U.S. policy on Cuba during a pointedly long absence from Havana.

Bonsai's strategy is the same that he used effectively in 1956 as ambassador to Colombia to show his coolness toward then-Dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla: letting the snubs fall on a mere charge d'affaires. Just as Castro learned Bonsai's plans, a Washington News editorial reprinted in Havana drove home the message: "There is a point where patient tolerance becomes obsequious humility."

The two men met for dinner at the home of Minister of State Raul Roa, and talked until 2:30 a.m. Bonsai had sore topics to fire away at, including 1) fair-compensation for the $300 million in U.S. sugar holdings now facing expropriation, 2) the 21% rate slash forced on the $272 million U.S.-controlled-Cuban Electric Co., and 3) the 87 U.S. citizens arrested over the past eight months.

An evening of overdue negotiations did not add up to any real change in the revolution's anti-U.S. slant. Sticking to the new tough line, the State Department last week decided to lift the citizenship of a key Castro aide, Ohio-born Major William Morgan (TIME, Aug. 24), on the grounds that he is a member .of a t foreign army. Similar action against about a dozen other U.S.-born Castro soldiers will follow.