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Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies

Young Cubans say Revolution is due for a makeover, not an overthrow

By Kelcie C. McCrae
Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies

HAVANA – Twenty-five-year-old Raidel Luiz Iglesia isn’t all that enamored with the Revolution.

“The revolution has done many good things, but it has done many bad things too,” said Iglesias, a musician who has spent all of his life in Havana.  “People work for nothing and you never can see the fruits of your efforts.”

Brenda Lorenzo, 17: "The Cuban people now are not the same ones as 60 years ago."

Neither is 17-year-old Brenda Lorenzo.

“(The revolution) has brought changes good for the people, but it needs to change with the time,” said Lorenzo, who is studying piano at the National Havana School of Music. “The Cuban people now are not the same ones as the ones 60 years ago.”

But neither Iglesias nor Lorenzo are planning to take to Cuba’s streets, as tens of thousands of young people recently did in Algeria, Egypt and now, Libya in a series of uprisings dubbed as the “Arab spring,” to force their heads of state to step down. They say that even though their socialist system is due for an update, it isn’t due for an overthrow.

“All that I know is due to the revolution,” Lorenzo said. “It just has to move to incorporate more things.”

Lorenzo’s sentiments mirror those of much of the country’s citizens, said Johana Tablada, deputy director of the North American Department of the Cuban Foreign Ministry.

"The majority of the Cuban people want to keep building the socialism system," Tablada said. "They don't want to get rid of something and have nothing to replace it."

Said Iglesias: “It (an Arab spring) would never happen here.”

Interestingly enough, Cuba’s own history was changed by the restlessness of young people.

In 1959, Fidel Castro, a hot shot politician a little older than Iglesias changed the face of Cuba for good. He and his younger brother Raul and an Argentine revolutionary named Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara led young people to revolt; the same thing that young people in Northern Africa are doing to rid themselves of autocratic regimes.

Just as change was happening in Cuba, a similar change was brewing in the United States. In the late 1950s and in the 1960s, black people took to the streets and embarked on a series of protests and acts of civil disobedience during the civil rights movement.

Pioneers of that movement often grouse that young black people don’t fully appreciate what it accomplished.

For the ‘revolutionists’ in Cuba, a similar feeling is present.

“I would be concerned if those young people try to forget about me,” Eduardo Torres Cuevas, director of the Jose Marti National Library said. “Our biggest challenge is to leave the young people with the values and memories of previous times.”

Surely Delarosa, 20: "My parents think the same as me, some things [that the Revolution accomplished] are good, some things are bad."

Surely Delarosa, who is 20 and also a student at the university, doesn’t plan to forget anything.

“I think that most of the older people trust the young people,” Delarosa said. “My parents thinks the same as me, some things  [that the Revolution accomplished] are good, some things are bad.”

One of the good things, Delarosa said, is free health care and education.

“My mother was sick, and she was taken care of in one of our best hospitals in Cuba,” she said. “I study at the university, and I study for free. I have the best professors in the country.

“Education has opened a lot of new doors, for work and things I didn’t know.”

But to some young Cubans, the Revolution means something different than those who came before them.

Iglesias, unlike Castro and his parents, is not a communist. Because of his political choice, he had many arguments with his family when he was younger. Now, they do not even discuss politics.

But while he has taken advantage of the offerings from the revolution such as free health care and free education, and while he stresses that an overthrow would never happen, he adamantly criticizes aspects of the revolution.

Raidel Luiz Iglesia, 25: It (an Arab spring) would never happen here."

“I believe what I see,” Iglesias said. “I think that everything that has been said about the revolution, the thinkings of Karl Marx, or whatever, this has not been the real fact in Cuba.”

Lorenzo’s thoughts mirror Iglesias.’

Unlike many of her friends, she is studying something she actually enjoys.

Although education is free, there is often a cap on what professions can be studied so that certain professions don’t become overcrowded.

Lorenzo believes that system undercuts the dreams of many people.

“When they try to look for a career, often they don’t get the opportunity to follow the career that they want,” she said. “They spend their time doing something they don’t want to do.”

For both Iglesias and Lorenzo the revolution and leadership has its problems. Despite that, their loyalty still remains to Cuba.

“Everything I told you doesn’t mean I’m against the revolution,” Iglesias said. “We all have many things to be grateful to the revolution. Even the exiles in Miami have reasons to be thankful for revolution.”

Index of IFAJS Special Report: Cuba in Black and White