FIDEL CASTRO HAD PREDICTED that the year 1968 would see nothing less than the "triumph of the revolution." Yet by common consent it was the most difficult twelve months for Cubans since the revolution took power. Each day witnessed a battle against inconveniences and bureaucratic inefficiencies. Power failed in the cities, and the lights went out. Water pressure fell, and the toilets would not flush. On every street the boarded-up private shops remained empty, with nothing to replace them. In a large department store, once bustling with customers and full of haberdashery and notions, the sales staff, like androids in a science-fiction film, mechanically tended row upon row of empty showcases. Corner cafés dispensed cane juice or an unpalatable cola drink. Though bars and cabarets had opened for the New Year's festivities, no one knew for how long.
Everyone had stories of administrative foul-ups. On a state farm tomatoes were picked and put in boxes, where they remained in the sun for one, two, or three days until they spoiled. Ripe fruit fell from trees and rotted because no one was sent to harvest it—state regulations prohibited individuals from taking produce away without a permit. A million pine seedlings were stored in a tobacco warehouse and forgotten. Valuable seedlings were sprayed with a herbicide and killed. A Soviet machine was lost in a cane field and rusted beyond repair before it was found. A specialist from the United Nations came to talk about improved ways to grow bananas, and then a uniformed officer, in charge of the project, cut the stalks to have fruit for his lunch. Tons of butter turned rancid on a dock, because no ship arrived to transport it. The Green Belt around Havana had proved to be a colossal failure. From the outset, the program experienced problems. The