For Cuban youths, revolution means more free expression
Many believe Fidel Castro's resignation will allow more space for debate.
The artist stands outside the National Capitol building, the most visible landmark on Havana's crumbling skyline, puts three pieces of glass on the sidewalk, and places a scuba mask over his face.Skip to next paragraph
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The video performance, titled "Crossing the Sea at Night," is just a few minutes long, consisting of a series of simulated swimming strokes.
Its provocation is subtle. But its public forum and theme – given widespread emigration to the US by sea – are part of a social critique by a group of young artists, poets, sculptors, and rappers seeking to spur dialogue in a nation where newspapers and television often reflect a state-approved reality.
After nearly half a century at Cuba's helm, Fidel Castro's resignation has ushered in a sense of expectation that more opportunities for free expression are on the way – already, President Raúl Castro has relaxed bans on buying cellphones and DVDs.
But for many Cubans this is far from sufficient. And nowhere is hope for change more fervent than among the island's young adults, who never experienced the hardships prior to the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. Instead, they have grown up in an era of asceticism as the Soviet Union collapsed and its funds for Cuba dried up. They have been told over and over to be patient, to have faith, that change will soon come.
"We were born in a generation that instilled faith in us that things were going to improve, spiritually and materially, if we just followed the path," says Natividad Soto Kessel, a sculptor with the group of young artists that organizes under the name Omni Zonafranca.
"But it is the same as it was," pipes in Adolfo Cabrera, a founding member of Omni Zonafranca.
"We think there has been no improvement because there is no dialogue," adds Ms. Soto Kessel.
Perhaps nobody is stirring more dialogue right now than the young Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, who says her entries began as a personal catharsis and have since received worldwide attention. "I had so much to say, I was up to my neck," says the wiry Ms. Sanchez, who recently won the prestigious Ortega y Gasset prize in Spain for digital journalism.
Her blog, called Generacion Y (www.desdecuba.com/generaciony/), offers stinging criticism of the public discourse of Cuba's officials and chronicles the daily problems citizens face. She says that while the Raúl Castro administration is little more than a succession, Fidel Castro's resignation opens more space for debate.
"Fidel hypnotized the people," she says. "Now people have awakened."
Sanchez says the nation's first blog emerged in 2006. Now about a dozen independent blogs such as hers are read across Cuba. "We no longer depend on the government to inform us," she says.