Sunday, January 08, 2006

Rare unease in Cuba on survival of revolution

Miami Herald
Posted on Sun, Jan. 08, 2006

Rare unease in Cuba on survival of revolution
Cuban government officials appear suddenly aware of their own -- and the socialist revolution's -- mortality, and they are talking about it openly.

First, Fidel Castro used a loaded word seldom heard in Cuban government speeches: ''self-destruct.'' Then Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque made a rare reference to a future without Castro: a ``void nobody can fill.''

And now experts are asking: Is the Cuban government for the first time undergoing an unprecedented introspection -- one that perhaps acknowledges a fragile socialist grip on the island?

In recent weeks, the Cuban government has made a series of rare public comments urging Cubans to embrace the revolution -- or risk its future. Having just celebrated the revolution's 47th anniversary, Cuban government officials are openly worrying that the generation of disaffected youth that grew up with scarcity and hard times since the early 1990s will be the very catalyst that destroys Castro's legacy.

And they're scrambling to stop it.

''This country can self-destruct,'' Castro warned during a five-hour speech Nov. 17. ``This revolution can destroy itself, but they can never destroy us; we can destroy ourselves, and it would be our fault.''

Castro's comments came as he announced a new push against corruption. He blasted thieves who live off stolen government goods, like gasoline, and said that since the crackdown, gas stations have begun to collect twice the normal revenue. His tirade against fraud came with the message that the looting of state coffers deepens class distinctions and jeopardizes the revolution.

In the following weeks, he announced economic changes, including salary hikes and electricity rate increases aimed at the ''new rich'' who damage socialism's credibility.

Castro, experts say, seems to be acknowledging his own system's failures.

Castro's comments were followed by a Dec. 23 speech at a National Assembly session by Pérez Roque, a former Castro aide who represents the younger generation of Cuban officials. Referring several times to Castro's Nov. 17 speech, he said that 1.5 million Cuban adults were about 10 years old in 1990, when Cuba began to feel in earnest the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its massive subsidies.

Those children are now grown-ups who take cheap housing and free medical care and education for granted, Pérez Roque said, and never witnessed Cuba's prerevolution poverty.

''The fact that we have resisted all these years as we have resisted and battled, doesn't in itself guarantee we will be victorious in the future,'' Pérez Roque said, according to a transcript on the Foreign Ministry website. ``I think we should pay all our attention to the call made by Fidel, that phrase never said publicly in the history of the revolution: This revolution can be reversible, and not by our enemies who have tried everything possible, but by our own mistakes.''

Experts agree that Pérez Roque's comments are important.

''I am surprised this kind of stuff is spoken of this openly,'' said Mark Falcoff, author of Cuba, The Day After. ``It suggests two things: Castro's health may be as bad as the CIA says it is, and the [communist] party leadership recognizes they are going to have a rough time when he's not there.''

Two days before Castro's November speech, The Miami Herald reported that the CIA was convinced that the Cuban leader has Parkinson's disease and that the agency had briefed lawmakers on its findings.

Falcoff said the recent comments are particularly important because they contradict the standard rhetoric in Cuban government circles that the revolution has been ''institutionalized.'' The government, he said, is admitting it failed to capture its young.

''Nothing that happens in Cuba is an accident, above all anything these people say and say publicly,'' said María Dolores Espino, an expert on Cuba at St. Thomas University. ``They are positioning themselves for the aftermath. Castro wants the survival of the revolution to be his legacy, and they are preparing for that.''

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