Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cuba's Economic Woes Fuel Complaint at Home the Presence of Cuban President Fidel Castro at the First-Ever Latin American Summit This Week Prompts Interest in the Country's Economic, Political Prospects

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cuba's Economic Woes Fuel Complaint at Home the Presence of Cuban President Fidel Castro at the First-Ever Latin American Summit This Week Prompts Interest in the Country's Economic, Political Prospects

Article excerpt

CUBA'S worsening economy has given rise to open discontent among Cubans, a potential political crisis that could threaten the Communist leadership.

"This island is a tinderbox," says Yndamiro Restano, of rapidly rising public unhappiness with the government.

Worsening conditions, says the journalist-turned-political-activist, have led Cubans in recent weeks to express discontent more boldly than ever before under the 32-year rule of Fidel Castro.

Citizens, who only weeks ago would not have complained openly, now talk freely about their hardships. It is a slight but significant change, Cubans and United States Cuba-watchers say.

Spawned by Communist Cuba's deepening economic crisis, the newly open expressions of unhappiness, these observers say, are among the first visible signs of an emerging crisis of confidence in the government.

"The worse the economic situation gets, the worse the political situation becomes," says Gillian Gunn, a Cuba analyst with the Carneige Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "We are seeing the ingredients for a political crisis to happen."

Disruption of Cuba's long trading relationship with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has forced the government to restrict fuel supplies. "The Special Period," which Mr. Castro initiated less than a year ago, extended rationing and brought a new level of hardship to almost all aspects of daily life.

"We are asking everyone to endure these hardships until better times come," says a workers' union leader. "We need to remind each other that these hardships are a direct consequence of the American blockade." Breadlines in Havana

Cubans complain openly about food lines, lack of medicine, overcrowded buses, and the government's deafness to their plight.

In the "Plaza de la Revolucion," a banner with the motto "Socialism or Death" bore the graffiti: "What's the difference?"

In Old Havana, a visitor is shown several families' living conditions. Their diet consists of eggs, bread, and sugary lemonade. People shower without soap.

Run-down taxis and overflowing buses are the only transportation. To save fuel, the government has cut Havana's taxi fleet in half.

In Havana Bay, dockworkers are idle. "I have not seen a ship come to port in six months," says a crane operator. "Before, I would unload up to five Soviet cargo ships per week."

"The hardships people are suffering are leading some to boldly complain," says a senior foreign diplomat in Havana. "The problem is that the government has not offered any convincing explanations for the new hardships. …

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