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A generational divide widens in Cuba

A generational divide widens in Cuba

Older Cubans are grateful for the peace and stability of the Castro
years. But many younger ones, though grateful for the gains of the 1959
revolution, face a stifled future, and want more.

Cubans increasingly are divided over the path their nation is taking.
By Cecilia Sanchez, Los Angeles Times
April 17, 2012

SANTIAGO, Cuba — The way Cesar Cruz and his buddies see it, the
"revolution of our grandparents" just doesn't cut it anymore.

The 19-year-old student and his friends gather every Saturday in leafy
Cespedes Park in the shadow of Santiago de Cuba's cathedral, listening
to music and sharing spins on an old scooter, and dreaming of an
impossible future.

"We don't have the chance to think of a better life, without misery,"
Cruz said. "The only option is to leave the country. But we aren't
allowed to do that."

President Raul Castro may have launched economic reforms in this
communist country, to much international fanfare, but so far they
haven't trickled down to Cruz or anyone else he knows. And political
freedoms seem even more remote to young Cubans.

The only newspapers Cruz and his friends see are Granma and Juventud
Rebelde (Rebel Youth), two staid mouthpieces of the Castro regime.
Internet access is practically nonexistent. Satellite television is an
unimagined luxury.

Amid nervous giggles from his pals, Cruz glanced over his shoulder to
make sure there were no police within earshot when talking about the
chances of an "Arab Spring" in Cuba, or even the possibility of protests
in the streets.

"We think about it, but we are afraid," said Cruz, blue-eyed, with skin
the color of milk chocolate. "The few times anyone has tried to
organize, the government makes them disappear. The government is
everywhere."

Cuban authorities have made it clear that the economic overhaul will not
extend to the political system, which will be maintained as a closely
guarded one-party form of socialism.

The economic reforms, and the political stagnation, have laid bare a
generational divide. Many older Cubans who have lived through the
revolution's ups and downs, and have come to depend on its provisions,
welcome the economic opening but are afraid of real political change.
Younger Cubans, facing a stifled future, want more.

The economic moves have been taken by the government as much out of
necessity as anything else. Having lost its Soviet backer two decades
ago, the Cuban economy is staggering under the weight of a bloated state
workforce and unproductive agriculture sector. It is only subsidized
Venezuelan oil that keeps things afloat, prompting Raul Castro, who took
over as president when his brother Fidel fell ill, to encourage a
measure of private enterprise and other stimulus measures. But it is a
slow, halting process.

As the young people chatted, Cruz received a call on his cellphone. It
was his mother, telling him to stop by the hotel where his aunt works to
pick up a handout from management, a few crackers and bread.

"I promise you I am not going to live here forever. I do not want to
live a life of misery, like my parents, like my grandparents," he said.
"No, no, no. I want to live other experiences."

But where the youth finds frustration, an older generation looks to the
past for comfort.

Her knees stiff and sore, Carmen Romero, 76, paused frequently as she
climbed the steps to the shrine honoring Cuba's patron saint, Our Lady
of Charity, just outside Santiago. For her, the revolution is to be
thanked for giving her a roof over her head and a country at peace. Her
wrinkled face contorted in a frown and her voice rose when asked about
those who want change.

"People are ignorant for saying that," she said. "They are not grateful.
Fidel liberated us from a dictatorship, and thanks to him we are no
longer slaves."

Matilde Solis, 63, chimed in in agreement. "Do you know how many car
bombs explode in other countries?" she said. "God spare us that. People
who want change don't know how well off we are. There are worse countries."

Both worried what would happen if the regime they have known most of
their adult lives were to end. Reaching the shrine, they prayed for
Fidel Castro's health. "Care for him, Mother," Romero prayed aloud.
"What will become of us if you take him away?"

Raul has taken over from Fidel rather seamlessly, but the post-Castro
transition remains uncertain. No clear heir has been designated, and
many in the highest level of government are as old as the octogenarian
Castros.

The young friends who had gathered in the park, where mothers walked
their children and graying men played chess on tattered game boards,
said they appreciated what they had received from the 1959 revolution
that brought Fidel Castro to power. Their city, Santiago, is considered
the cradle of the uprising, the city from which it was launched.

"The revolution gave me education, it gives me a good doctor when I need
one, but if I think differently or speak out against the rules, I'm
going to be locked up," said Arturo Santos, 17.

The revolution, he noted, will also send him to medical school to study
to be a doctor, even though that was never what he wanted to be when he
grew up. But now he hopes that might be his ticket out of the country.

The government's restrictive immigration policies make it difficult for
young Cubans to move from the island legally. The uncle of one of the
friends bought an immigration visa on the black market for $3,000.

The young people praised the new economic reforms, which for the first
time allow ordinary Cubans to buy and sell houses and cars, to enter
hotels previously reserved for foreign tourists, and to start private
businesses. But with their meager incomes and low job prospects, they
said, the reforms for them are all but irrelevant.

"If I stay here, am I ever going to have enough money to buy a house?
Really? Of course not," said Roberto Tellez, another of the buddies in
the park, a 20-year-old musician. "Let everyone have the right to follow
the ideology they want. And if I want to try capitalism, then let me."

Sanchez is a researcher in The Times' Mexico City bureau.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-cuba-generations-20120417,0,3266594.story

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