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.
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Most artists have not taken their criticism as far as Rodriguez. Artists with Omni Zona Franca, a group of rappers, painters, and poets, say that their main goal is not to confront the government head-on, but to spur more dialogue. Like others, these artists say they admire many aspects of the Cuban system. Indeed, many youths say that despite hardships, Cubans enjoy a level of security, camaraderie, and sense of solidarity that sets them apart from other nations in the region. It is the lack of free expression that they abhor.Skip to next paragraph
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On a recent day, Adolfo Cabrera, a founding member of Omni Zona Franca, stands in his apartment, filled with paintings, graphics, and sculptures created by him and his friends. Everything about their work is subtle and, often, spontaneous. In one of their performance videos, a man dressed in yellow holds a sunflower in his hand, standing silently on a city street. He draws a crowd, and eventually is taken away by the police for public disruption. That, says Mr. Cabrera, captured the intolerance and mistrust on the part of authorities.
He says that, by and large, the government ignores their work. "In all our actions we are demanding more free expression and trying to connect it with social criticism," he says.
But even restrained disapproval of the authorities makes many youths here uncomfortable. Almost all of those interviewed by the Monitor lament the senselessness of certain rules, but few say they would actively contest them.
"Why can't we travel? Why can't we earn enough to buy what we need?" asks Ilene, sitting on a parked motorbike in Old Havana with Miguel, her voice rising as she spouts a litany of complaints.
But this couple says they've never even considered formalizing such grievances. "Why are we going to take a risk when things won't change anyway?" says Miguel, shrugging – an act that seems to be a national reflex.
Universities: hotbeds of apathy?
Even universities – hotbeds of anti-establishment activism in most countries – are pretty subdued in Cuba. On the campus of the University of Havana, students say they desire change, but via official channels. The February confrontation with Alarcón was an exception, not the norm.
"It is especially hard [to press for change] in the university, because that is considered a space for [pro-Castro] revolutionaries," says Yoani Sanchez, a young blogger who has received worldwide attention for her musings on the hardships of life in Cuba in her blog, Generation Y (see story, right). "Many fear they'll lose their positions if they speak out."
Instead, she says, they quietly seek their own solutions via the black market or by immigrating to the US. "It is a pragmatic expression of survival."
But, she says, society in general is criticizing the status quo more every day, especially youths.
William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert at American University in Washington, agrees. "A university student born in 1990 hasn't known anything but the post-Soviet era," he says. "They don't remember what it was like when things were pretty good in the '70s and '80s, and they certainly don't know what it was like before the  revolution. That is the problem that the government has; [the youths'] disillusionment is a big issue."
Observers say the government has begun addressing such concerns, allowing articles on the problems of youth unemployment to appear in the state-run media, for example.
But for many youths, criticism via official channels is just another measure of control, and for Rodriguez it's not enough. He says he has no plans to back down. "The government preaches equality, but everyone knows there are people who do really well and others who don't. We don't speak of social classes," he says. "But they exist."