In Cuba, Revolt Cuts Two Ways

At Havana's Hotel Sevilla, a photo in the lobby proudly commemorated the day in 1959 when revolutionaries attacked the hotel, smashing windows and shouting epithets against the island's US-supported dictatorship.

Last week the photo was quietly taken down. The state-owned hotel's employees would not comment on the removal, but it may have seemed unwise to glorify such acts at a time when violence is striking Cuba's tourist sites.

On Thursday, three small bombs exploded in rapid succession in beachside hotels in the Cuban capital's upscale Miramar district. A fourth explosion struck the Bodeguita del Medio tourist hangout in Old Havana that night.

At least eight bombs have been detonated in Havana hotels or other tourist sites since April. While most have caused little damage, an Italian businesman died in Thursday's blast in the Copacabana Hotel.

The most recent bombings have caused a swift series of reactions from Cuban officials, all declaring the "unity" and "tranquility" of the Cuban people - perhaps because the violence suggests the opposite.

Havana is covered with billboards vaunting the unity of Cubans in support of their 38-year-old communist revolution and against "Yankee imperialism" and capitalism, the way most cities around the world sport billboards for cars or Coca-Cola.

US-based enemies?

Cuban officials insist that internal opposition is microscopic, isolated, and dependent on the United States. But the bombings suggest what just about any conversations with Cubans reveals - that Cuba's Communist regime faces as much intense opposition as fervent support.

The Cuban government claims to have evidence proving the attacks are the work of "enemies of the Cuban people and their revolution" based in the United States. Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina said in a press conference Friday that proof would be presented "at the right moment." So far no evidence has been made public.

The US State Department issued a statement after the latest blasts reiterating its condemnation of the use of violence as a means of achieving a political transition in the Communist country. US officials say if the Cuban goverment does have evidence of involvement by US citizens or residents it should be presented. For one reason, if explosive materials are being transported into Cuba via air traffic, they say, that could constitute a major security risk.

Cuban officials respond that the US has failed in the past to take any action when evidence of illegal activities was offered. They refer to what they say were their unheeded complaints about violations of Cuban airspace by US-registered planes, and the repeated warnings they say they gave US officials that the incursions would not be allowed to continue. In February 1996, Cuba shot down two small American aircraft flying between Florida and Cuba, killing four exile pilots.

The failure to present any evidence in the blasts leads many Cubans to believe that the government doesn't acutally have a clue as to whom is setting the bombs. But speculation runs in two directions: that it is either Cubans working with an extremist exile group opposed to President Fidel Castro; or that it is Communists, perhaps within the military, who are responsible.

No. 1 industry: tourism

That anti-Castro exile groups would act against the island's tourist industry follows a certain logic. In recent years, tourism has surpassed sugar as the regime's principal source of revenue, growing by more than 20 percent annually since 1990. The government is counting on more than 1 million tourists, mainly from Europe and Canada, to spend perhaps $1.8 billion this year.

With perhaps 2 million tourists expected in 2000 and much of the rest of the economy stagnating, tourism is seen by many as the regime's principal prop and lifeline to a future.

But some Cubans say there is also reason to believe that hard-line communists opposed to the island's economic opening are responsible - especially with the Communist Party's congress, the first since 1991, set for October. Their reasoning harks back to the photo that until recently hung in the Hotel Sevilla's lobby. Cubans who fought to take their homeland back from rich foreigners who had made a poverty-stricken Cuba their playground could easily feel that their country is regressing to Square 1.

Today struggling Cubans, many earning the equivalent of $10 a month, see dollar-toting foreign tourists as their only means of survival. As a result prostitution, often involving adolescent girls, is now commonplace, while men look to sell contraband cigars or rum, and families seek to serve meals or rent rooms. One result is waning communist ideology.

Supporters of this theory say elements of the military might be involved because they would have access to materials needed to construct explosives, and because they might number among those most alarmed by the country's moral drift.

But most Cubans say they are sure the violence could not be the work of average citizens acting on their own.

"This kind of thing requires tight organization, money, and access to materials, all of which is extremely problematic here," says a Havana carpenter who claims he has been involved in minor antiregime activities: posting tracts, writing graffiti, breaking windows, and damaging construction sites.

"Some of us are waiting for some kind of outside help," he adds, "but without it, I don't see any chance of antigovernment acts of any real impact."

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