By Carol J. Williams | Los Angeles Times
As Cuban leader Fidel Castro wages war against private enterprise, petty theft and a shackled opposition, analysts say the aging militant is striving to recover the egalitarian aims of his revolution and protect his legacy of having rescued Cuba from capitalism.
But the crackdowns also have exposed a deepening rift between a shrinking coterie of Communist true-believers and a society that has largely defected from his movement’s core ideals of solidarity and self-sacrifice.
In an ideological end game pitting the nearly 80-year-old leader against what analysts believe is a large and growing segment of his own people, Castro’s drive to root out “imperialist” influence are provoking comparison with Mao Zedong’s 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, which ravaged China and set back hopes of reform for years.
While Castro has held his island in a vice grip since his guerrilla band seized power on New Year’s Day 1959, his campaigns have lately taken on an urgency. In the past year, amid indications of the bearded icon’s flagging health, the regime has:
—Declared war on the “new rich,” arresting those who use their cars or bicycles as taxis, seizing privately raised produce on sale at farmers’ markets and rescinding self-employment licenses that had allowed Cubans since 1994 to run restaurants and guest houses in their homes.
—Increased the number of “acts of repudiation” by Communist Party militants, who track down and heckle dissidents and their families.
—Ramped up efforts to dismantle outlawed satellite dishes and confiscated televisions and subscription decoder cards brought in by relatives visiting from abroad.
—Drafted students and aging Communist Party loyalists to stand guard at gas stations and factories to deter theft by state employees, a problem even the party newspaper Granma concedes has reached pandemic proportions.
—Ordered Cubans to refrain from contact with foreign tourists unless “absolutely necessary” for their jobs, claiming a need to protect citizens from ideological contamination.
The moves follow earlier rollbacks of the economic reforms put in place in the early 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed and Moscow ceased sending billions in aid to its Communist ally in the Caribbean Sea.
In November 2004, Castro formally withdrew from circulation the U.S. dollar, the foundation of reforms for 10 years, replacing it with a new national peso. The same year, the government increased restrictions on the Internet, limiting access to a few thousand government employees.
The current crackdowns intensify what human rights groups have condemned as “a wave of repression” against political challenge that was unleashed three years ago when 75 dissidents and journalists were rounded up, accused of treason and sentenced to an average of 20 years in prison.
Cuba scholars say the harsh measures reflect Castro’s efforts to preserve his nation’s political system and his legacy.
Julia Sweig, Latin American studies director at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of “Inside the Cuban Revolution,” traces Castro’s intolerance of dissent to his conviction that the stability of the state requires “unity at all costs.”
Cubans seldom share the zeal of the revolution’s founders because the system provides residents with few of the opportunities that they are smart enough to envision and able-bodied enough to pursue, she noted.
“Young people coming out of the great health and education systems don’t see they really have a future,” she said. “And the older generations—those who were part of the revolutionary ethos from the beginning—they’re dying.”