Economic crisis feeds disenchantment in Cuba Critics feel Castro is out of touch

July 13, 1992|By John M. McClintock | John M. McClintock,Staff Writer

HAVANA, Cuba -- The disenchantment with Fidel Castro is growing painfully here.

Thirty-three years after the revolution and in the wake of the disintegration of its economic and ideological benefactor in Moscow, people are reduced to bare subsistence living. Meat is a rarity. There is hardly any fuel. Tourism helps, but this Caribbean nation is facing the most severe economic crisis in its history.

Many prominent pro-government intellectuals are openly questioning Mr. Castro's rule.

Some senior officials wonder if the 65-year-old leader has lost touch with reality because of his stubborn resistance to recommended reforms that might open a national political dialogue and force the confrontation of economic facts that happened in the former Communist states in Europe.

The failure to even consider proposed political and economic reforms during last October's super-secret Fourth Communist Party Congress here caused more than 100 militants to resign and led to a protest by more than 30 professors at the University of Havana.

"I felt betrayed that these issues were not even publicly debated by the party congress," says a Foreign Ministry official. "Sometimes I wonder if Castro knows what is going on and fear that he is badly misinformed about how people feel."

Others questioning the regime in recent months have been the sons of prominent revolutionaries and bureaucrats. They include Che Guevara's illegitimate son; the son of the late Blas Roca, former head of the Communist Party; and the son of Lazaro Mora, Cuba's chief Latin American diplomat.

The long-repressed Roman Catholic Church is even beginning to speak out. The Most. Rev. Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana, criticized the regime for suggesting that Marxism "was just another form of religion" and that Catholics were not loyal Cuban citizens.

Another critic has been Lisandro Otero, a prominent post-revolutionary writer and former ambassador to the Soviet Union, who publicly assailed the regime for treating "people with suggestions as traitors."

Comments by an insider like Mr. Otero serve as a friendly warning to the party leadership that things should not remain as they are.

Perhaps more ominous are indications that the loyalist security forces are becoming more corrupt as the economy worsens. Strong circumstantial evidence exists that the military is allowing overflights of Colombian drug planes and may have had a hand '' in some extraordinary thefts of government small arms.

The arms thefts in November and December were confirmed in separate interviews with eight witnesses living in the port area of Havana. The weapons were Russian pistols and AK-47 automatic rifles in two ship containers that were under the control of the military.

"Many people are nervous that the country could suddenly explode into bloody anarchy," said Fernando Suarez, who showed a visitor his stolen Makarov pistol. "They bought these guns on the black market to protect themselves."

In January, a U.S. Coast Guard-Customs team captured 2,880 pounds of cocaine that had been airdropped in the Bahamas by three Colombian drug planes. All three planes escaped by flying into Cuban air space, arousing suspicion that defense officials had been bribed to look the other way.

Senior military officials may be more tempted by bribery and black-market deals since their privileges are disappearing.

"We used to have commissary privileges at my husband's military base," said the well-dressed wife of a lieutenant colonel. "Now we must eat our rice and beans like everyone else."

Mr. Castro's friends abroad are also concerned about his refusal accept change.

At the last Ibero-American summit in Guadalajara, Mexico, the Cuban leader came under considerable international pressure to adopt the kinds of democratic and economic reforms that swept away his old Soviet allies and caused the current economic depression in Cuba.

Edward Broadbent, a Canadian government human rights advocate who is a long-time acquaintance of Mr. Castro, was dismayed by a 3 1/2 -hour meeting he had with the Cuban leader in May.

"I think he risks losing major gains of the revolution in education and health care because he has seriously misjudged the depth of the economic crisis and the need for political reform," said Mr. Broadbent. "I see the regime being subject to potentially massive self-deception."

Earlier this year, Elizardo Sanchez, a prominent and frequently jailed human rights advocate, wrote to Mr. Castro asking him to lead a national dialogue that would yield free elections. The president rejected the proposal.

Some, particularly the zealous and influential Cuban immigrant community in Miami, feel that the only hope of change is to bring Mr. Castro to his knees.

Carlos Orosco, president of the the Cuban Pro-Human Rights Party, a group allied with the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami, insists, "The only way for Cuba to advance is for Mr. Castro to step down, die or be forced from office."

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