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