Anderson's article on Fidel Castro appears in the July 31 issue of The New Yorker.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In the July 31 issue of The New Yorker, author Jon Lee Anderson writes about plans in Cuba for life after Fidel Castro. The 79-year-old leader has designated his brother Raul to succeed him when he dies, likely with the help of a triumvirate of Cuban leaders as advisers. But many wonder whether the socialist ideals of Castro's revolution can outlast him. That worry plagues Fidel himself, as Anderson writes in the excerpt below:
In June, 2001, Castro fainted from heat exhaustion during a lengthy public address, and in 2004, after delivering a speech, he stumbled and fell, shattering his left kneecap and breaking his right arm. Although he still gives the long speeches for which he is famous, his hands sometimes tremble and he walks unsteadily; he has occasional bouts of forgetfulness and incoherence; and he sometimes falls asleep in public. In briefings to Congress last year, the C.I.A. reported that Castro was suffering from Parkinson's disease. Castro has mocked the report and said that, even if it were true, he would be able to stay in office—citing Pope John Paul II as his model.
This spring, a friend of Castro's, a veteran Party loyalist, told me that the Cuban leader was angustiado -- literally, "anguished" -- over his advancing years, and obsessed by the idea that socialism might not survive him. As a result, Castro has launched his last great fight, which he calls the Battle of Ideas.
Castro's goal is to reengage Cubans with the ideals of the revolution, especially young Cubans who came of age during what he called the Special Period. In the early nineties, the collapse of the Soviet Union brought a precipitous end to Cuba's subsidies, and the economy imploded. The crisis forced Castro to allow greater openness in the island's economic and civil life, but he now seems determined to reverse that. In a speech last November, Castro said, "This country can self-destruct, this revolution can destroy itself." Referring to the Americans, he said, "They cannot destroy it, but we can. We can destroy it, and it would be our fault." And in May, during an angry, seven-hour televised panel discussion that he convened to protest his appearance on the Forbes list of the world's richest leaders (the magazine estimated his net worth at nine hundred million dollars), Castro said, "We must continue to pulverize the lies that are told against us. . . .This is the ideological battle, everything is the Battle of Ideas."
Castro has approached the campaign in the manner of a field marshal, with a Central Command of ideological loyalists drawn from the Communist Youth Union, the U.J.C. Some Cubans refer to them sarcastically as "the Taliban." A better analogy might be the Red Guards: the Battle of Ideas has, in a sense, become Cuba's Cultural Revolution, although it does not have the same violent intensity. Castro's Central Command organizes marches and dispatches specially recruited "battalions" of Trabajadores Sociales, or Social Workers, which now intervene in most areas of daily life. Earlier this year, when Castro announced that Cubans should begin using more energy-efficient light bulbs, the battalions went from house to house across the country to deliver the bulbs and make sure that they were installed.
Privately, many Cubans regard the Battle of Ideas as a spectacle they must tolerate but which is irrelevant to their lives. Most of them do not earn enough money to eat well, much less live comfortably. As a result of the island's endemic shortages, almost everyone has some contact with Cuba's black market. The tension between the public Cuba of rallies and tribunals and this hidden one is growing, and a number of Cubans and American officials I spoke to fear that the pent-up chaos could erupt into open unrest upon Castro's death: looting, rioting, and revenge killings.
Excerpt republished by permission of the author and The New Yorker.