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    Nobody’s Voting in Cuba Today, But Young Cubans Yearn for More $$, Less Propaganda

    Nobody’s Voting in Cuba Today, But Young Cubans Yearn for More $$, Less Propaganda
    Nov 7, 2006 06:34 PM

    HAVANA (AP) — Cuba says Fidel Castro’s revolution will last forever.
    But the aging cadre of leaders who devoted their lives to building a
    communist utopia on this Caribbean island must eventually turn things
    over to new generations — and Cuba’s young people don’t seem to share
    their revolutionary zeal.

    There is a profound disconnect between the world of this younger
    generation and the ideology they see in state media. After 47 years of
    rule by Fidel, many youths say that they are tired of politics, and that
    the official rhetoric doesn’t match their reality. They dream of less
    propaganda and more material comforts. “We really hope things get better
    — it can’t be like this forever,” Israel Cuesta, 24, said of the
    country’s economic situation.

    Whether the handful of leaders filling in for the ailing 80-year-old
    Castro can surmount this apathy is among many questions facing Cuba.
    Many young Cubans certainly embrace the current system, actively
    participating in the Communist Youth Union and responding to efforts by
    the government to nurture a new generation of leaders.

    But others resist the formula. Free speech limits are among their sore
    points. Restricted Internet access generally is only available through
    government centers and universities, and Cubans risk fines and
    confiscation of equipment if they wire up illegal satellite dishes to
    watch MTV or CNN. “I feel blind, and manipulated,” said a 30-year-old
    who would identify himself only as Luis for fear of losing his job at a
    state-run art institute. Cuba’s focus on social equality and autonomy
    from the U.S. remains genuinely popular among youths.

    They appreciate the safety net that prevents most Cubans from going
    hungry or becoming homeless, as well as a sociable environment where
    strangers constantly interact and help each other. And they’ve inherited
    their parents’ and grandparents’ deep pride in being Cuban. But what
    they want most seems to be change. “I want more technology, to be
    somewhere that feels more advanced,” said Tony, a 20-year-old music
    producer with long, gelled hair and a black leather bracelet with studs.

    Like many young Cubans, he wouldn’t reveal his last name, fearing
    retribution for speaking candidly. “I want to open my mind,” he said.
    While the elderly generation equates Castro’s revolution with
    opportunity, younger people feel they lack options — and can’t see how
    they will be able to make enough money to live well. Younger Cubans can
    go to college for free, get full health care coverage and listen to
    world-class music concerts at tiny cost. But they also have little
    chance of renting or buying their own apartments, getting a car, or
    making more than $15 a month.

    Cuesta, a dishwasher at a fancy Havana tourist hotel, vividly remembers
    the dramatic poverty of the island’s “special period” in the 1990s, when
    the collapse of the Soviet Union and end to its subsidies plunged Cuba
    into economic crisis. Bicycles replaced cars and Cubans became
    increasingly skinny as gasoline and food started to disappear. Salaries
    lost their value overnight. Power blackouts up to 16 hours a day were
    common. “There was nothing,” Cuesta said. “A lot of people just started
    falling apart financially. They were no longer the same.”

    The period translated into a “frustration of expectations” for Cuba’s
    young people, said Damian Fernandez, a Cuban-American who heads the
    Cuban Research Institute at Miami’s Florida International University.
    “The economic shortage, and that closure of opportunity, have clearly
    scarred this generation.” Cuesta said things are improving, but many of
    his friends have left Cuba anyway. “They want to acquire more things
    that are hard to come by here: like a color television, a DVD,” he said.

    Those fleeing reflect Cuba’s generational split — 28 percent of the
    2,150 Cubans repatriated in 2005 after being intercepted at sea were
    under 25 and the majority were aged 25-45, according to the U.S.
    Interests Section in Havana. Just 6 percent were older than 45. “We all
    want to go to La Yuma,” said 15-year-old Eduardo, using Cuban slang for
    the United States.

    “It’s better there,” he said, citing everything from higher pay to more
    amusement parks. Younger Cubans have been increasingly exposed to the
    world’s material cultures and alternative lifestyles since Cuba
    begrudgingly opened its doors to foreign tourists to pull the island out
    of its 1990s slump.

    Economic divisions also deepened on the island of 11 million people as
    tourism replaced sugar as Cuba’s primary source of foreign income. Now,
    while poorer youths play guitar near the Malecon seawall and dance
    reggaeton for hours in parks, others wear brand-name clothes and go to
    trendy music parties costing $5 — a third of the average monthly
    salary. These “Mickies” –a play on Mickey Mouse and superficiality —
    may be part of Cuba’s small privileged class, or get money from
    foreigners or Cuban-American relatives.

    More “alternative” groups gather on city streets or in nightclubs that
    charge $1. Their style includes mohawks, tattoos and body piercing,
    though plenty of expensive American sneakers and even a sleeveless David
    Beckham soccer jersey were seen recently at a basement techno music
    spot. “Here you can really disconnect from all the pressure outside,”
    said Luis, who has eyebrow piercings and bleached blond hair swooped up
    in a spike. “There’s a lot of tolerance here in this basement.”

    Luis said he frequently gets harassed by police, but he also
    acknowledged that his rebellious peers can gather openly — a real
    change from decades past when long hair brought public rebukes and
    Cubans were sent to labor camps for being gay. Still, Cuba has a long
    way to go, he said. “We want freedom of expression, freedom to do what
    we want,” he said. “And we want dollars.”

    Those dollars often come illegally, through working under the table and
    “jineterismo” — a Cuban term that translates as jockeying but can mean
    everything from getting a foreigner to buy you lunch to sleeping with
    one for money or gifts. Prostitution and the exodus of young people
    concern the revolution’s aging “true believers.” “They want whatever
    they feel they can’t get here — if they have five, they want 10,” said
    Reinalda Diaz Rojas, 83. “Old people, well we’re more content with what
    we have. And we feel we have our country to thank.”

    Those who remember life under dictator Fulgencio Batista have more vivid
    fears about a return to capitalism. Diaz Rojas, a woman from a coastal
    village, credits Castro for opening doors that were closed before the
    1959 revolution, allowing her to study in the capital and become a

    Many middle-age Cubans also hold faith in the current government model,
    partly because they experienced how good life could be in the 1980s when
    wages were more than sufficient under the rich support of the Soviet
    Union. With Castro sidelined by illness, the possibility of change is in
    the air.

    Young Cubans say they hope the current collective leadership led by
    Castro’s brother Raul will bring fewer rules and a more vibrant economy.
    Those who want to stay on the island say they would be happy with even
    minor improvements. “We just want to be more free,” said Yoansy Herbaz,
    21. “And,” he added with a smile, “for prices for the discotheques to go

    Posted by KO

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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