Cuba's youth: restless but not often political
They just want the freedom to travel and access to the tech touchstones of their generation: iPods, Facebook, and text messages.
The posters in Bian Rodriguez's tiny room are the same that would adorn the walls of any college student's dorm. Bob Marley vies for space with US rappers Tupac and Busta Rhymes. The visage of leftist guerrilla icon Ernesto "Che" Guevara sizes up visitors from all angles.Skip to next paragraph
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"Che is ... the ideal man," says the tattooed 23-year-old hip-hop artist. "He never let people down. He did what he said."
Through his biting lyrics, he vents the anger he says other young Cubans also feel at being trapped in a system that doesn't represent them, won't allow them to speak freely, and – worst of all – stifles their ability to get ahead.
"We do social criticism," he says. "We criticize this system and any other. The leaders make promises, but they don't deliver."
Rodriguez is far more open in his criticism than most Cubans. Young Cubans, after all, were raised watching their neighbors jailed for voicing dissent. But this generation, while valuing much about their nation's socialist ideals, is growing restless. In some cases, it is political. But for many, it's a desire for the basic technological and social touchstones of their era – text messages, Facebook, Hollywood movies, travel abroad, and flat-screen TVs.
"The under-45 generation is disconnected from the myths and legends of the revolution," says Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst who profiled both Fidel and Raúl Castro. "The biggest change will come from the youth."
The boldest confrontation to date, at least publicly, came from students this past winter at the University of Information Sciences in Havana, during a meeting with National Assembly president Ricardo Alarcón. Students peppered him with complaints ranging from low wages to gaining access to the Internet.
"Why can't the people of Cuba go to hotels or travel to other parts of the world?" asked Eliecer Avila, in a video that quickly was posted on Youtube.com. The student, dressed in a blue T-shirt decorated with the e-mail symbol "@," said he didn't want to die before visiting Bolivia, where "Che" fell.
"That [confrontation] goes to the issue of opportunity," says Frank Mora, a Cuba expert at the National Defense University in Washington. "There are three levels of demands for freedom and expectations. 'I just want to live better, and have more access to food.' [Other] people want more mobility, access to the Internet. Then there is a third group that wants dramatic change of the kind we saw in Eastern Europe. It's hard to say how many want that third option. Within this [younger] age group, the issue of social change and opportunities is front and center."