CUBA: Castro's Brain

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In appearance as in action, Che is the world's most unorthodox banker. Dressed in black beret, green battle tunic and paratrooper jump boots, he drives his own Ford Falcon from his seaside home to the National Bank each working day just in time to begin his normal office hours—3 p.m. to 6 a.m. In the back seat, two guards carry Tommy guns at the ready. In his 30-ft., deep-carpeted office, Che tosses his Luger onto the long, cluttered desk, calls in the two Chilean Marxists who are his main economic advisers, and buckles down to work. His wife Aleida serves as his secretary, while his ex-wife Hilda, having moved to Havana with their four-year-old daughter, works at the Che-influenced Agrarian Reform Institute.

Despite his lack of training in economics, he now speaks with assurance of such technical topics as balance of payments, rediscount rates or expansion of commercial paper. As one Washington banker puts it, "It's just like talking to another banker." One of Che's irritations comes from Prime Minister Castro, who carries a checkbook in his shirt pocket. When a project seems worthy, Castro tugs out the book and writes a check. His account is now overdrawn by $7,343,000.

To pay the costs of the revolution, Che has printed enough Cuban currency to increase the amount in circulation by 62%, to 800 million pesos. The peso, nominally worth $1, has depreciated to 52¢ on the New York market. In the space for the National Bank president's signature, the new bills say simply "Che." (AntiCommunist Cubans put a small cross before the Che, making it cruz-Che, which pronounced rapidly sounds like Khrushchev.) When Che took over the bank, he found that its gold and dollar reserves were deposited in the U.S. He transferred them to Switzerland.

Red Dividend. Since Castro handed him power, Che has taken three crucial steps. He has cut Cuba's main economic ties with the West and hooked them to the Communist world. He has started preparing for the war he expects the U.S. to wage against him. And he has taken bold action to spread his revolutionary influence across the rest of Latin America.

In deals behind the Iron Curtain, Che got more than $100 million worth of promised Communist aid—much of it in the form of factories to produce such former U.S. imports as knives, radios, cameras, tubing, flour, cable, screwdrivers, electric motors, hinges, light bulbs, farm machines, printing presses, office equipment, medical instruments. The deal also included a barter exchange—sugar, the nation's major export, for oil, the major import. To refine the Russian crude, Che seized the three foreign refineries—Shell, Esso and Texaco—without compensation.

When the U.S. angrily reacted by virtually cutting off 1960 Cuban-sugar imports, Che got a Russian dividend—a threat by Premier Khrushchev to fire rockets at the U.S. if it intervened in Cuba. The gesture moved Che to call Cuba "a glorious island in the middle of the Caribbean, defended by the rockets of the greatest military power in history." Where tanning U.S. tourists and businessmen once sipped daiquiris on the brink of clear blue hotel pools, broad-cheeked Russian and impassive Red Chinese technicians now take their ease.

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