Clash Of Faiths

This week Pope John Paul II brings his message of freedom to Fidel Castro's Cuba as two of the world's giants collide

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Fidel, it seems, thinks about little else than the revolution. When he gets together with old friends, they reminisce on the glorious past of the revolution. Every day he personally takes charge of large matters, like the relationship with the church, and small, like details of a financial transaction with a foreign investor. No matter what subject comes up for private discussion, Fidel soon turns it to preservation of the revolution. Aware than many in the country no longer believe in the orthodoxies of Marxism, he has cleverly redefined the revolution into a code for Cuban sovereignty, national identity and social justice that all Cubans can still share."His passion is so intense for the destiny of the country," says Guevara, "that you cannot ever get away from it."

Castro has always said, "Revolutionaries never retire," but he has been planning for the inevitable "biological transition" that will bring a new leader to that book-lined office. His brother Raul remains the designated successor. But starting perhaps half a decade ago, he began systematically replacing old revolutionary comrades in the government with young, educated technocrats. Today many party leaders, National Assembly members and Fidel's own top advisers are under 40, a form of insurance that dedicated followers of his ideals are prepared to carry on his revolutionary mission.

Now that Cuban survival is no longer at risk, frustration is rising as people seek something more: the end of rationing, decent apartments they do not have to share, jobs that pay adequate salaries. Discontent has not driven Cubans into the streets though: they are too timid or too fearful of an unknown alternative for that. They still do not harbor the loathing for their leaders that finally drove East Europeans into open revolt. "Cubans are always waiting, for someone from the state, from outside, from God, to change their circumstances," says Rolando Suarez, director of the Catholic charity Caritas. "People are not willing to act in their own behalf."

But many have lately been seeking to fill the spiritual vacuum left by the hollow, lifeless phrases of Marx. The sip of individual initiative permitted in recent years is nurturing a taste for more personal freedoms, not so much for U.S.-style democracy or the overthrow of the regime as for a vague longing to choose things for oneself, profit from one's own effort, speak one's own mind. "Before, it was either the party or this." Gliceria Cabrera, 57, is firm: "From now on we can say that God is God."

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