EXPERTS on Cuba are increasingly predicting a violent, rather than evolutionary, end to Castroism.
Events of the last few days, they believe, have made the prospect of peaceful change much slimmer. Instead, a series of crackdowns and dismissals suggests that President Fidel Castro is hardening his line, making compromise more difficult and an explosion more likely.
One of the indicators is the firing of Carlos Aldana. Though Mr. Aldana is not, as some news reports have suggested, the third-most-powerful man in Cuba, he is nevertheless a Castro intimate who dared to question his leader's political direction. He has been dismissed and consigned to political oblivion.
Also deposed is the party secretary and seven municipal secretaries in Havana province, the province whose agricultural output is critical to the Cuban capital of Havana.
Probably soon to be on the political chopping block is Roberto Robaina, Castro's youth leader.
Aldana has been in charge of ideological affairs, which involves control of the media, training of party cadres, foreign affairs, and education.
He was chief of staff for Raul Castro, Fidel's brother and political heir apparent. He played a key role in negotiation of the peace agreement in Angola.
But at the party congress last October, Aldana questioned Castro's Marxist isolationism and the Cuban leader's stubborn rejection of the kind of reforms taking place in the former Soviet Union.
After zigging in that direction, Aldana quickly zagged back to toe Castro's hard line with an apologetic mea culpa. But he could not save himself and now is out.
Mr. Robaina, the youth leader, has gone through similar political gyrations, and his days may also be numbered.
The political leaders in Havana province were the ones charged with the tricky task of mobilizing city workers to head for the countryside to gather food for the capital.
All this underlines Castro's determination to stamp out dissent, and to turn his back on suggestions from Spain and Latin American countries that he permit an orderly transition in Cuba toward democracy and a market-based economy.
Indeed, far from loosening up, he has written into Cuba's constitution a provision endowing him with new emergency powers.
Cuba-watchers see all this as making more inevitable a violent end to the Castroism that has made Cuba an isolated and impoverished nation.
If Castro will not bring change to Cuba voluntarily, the alternatives are intervention by the United States (considered remote), a military coup dtat (difficult but not impossible), or a popular explosion (increasingly likely as conditions worsen and Castro bottles up the people's frustration).
In the event of a popular eruption, Cuba's armed forces would be faced with the choice of mutiny against Castro or of putting down the uprising - probably with widespread loss of life.
However Castro departs the scene, it seems unlikely that his brother Raul, although groomed for the dictatorial succession, could long control the situation.
Raul Castro does not have his brother Fidel's stature, and indeed some of Fidel Castro's supporters are contemptuous of Raul. He is an unlikely long-term successor to Fidel.
Under the Castro brothers Cuba has become an economic disaster.
As Cuban expert Ernesto F. Betancourt said in an address to the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy in August: "Cuba is heading for 19th-century living conditions. Recently, there has been a small improvement in food supply as a result of mobilizing urban residents to grow their own food."
"But," he said, "there is little hope of any economic growth for the foreseeable future.... As a result of the loss of Soviet subsidies, Cuba is doomed to a no-growth future for lack of ability to generate revenue to maintain its present energy consumption, much less to expand it."
It is against this harsh economic background that the impending political drama will be played out in Cuba.