Cuba's Young Dropouts Abandon Socialism

NEARLY every night, Jos'e Hernandez Gonzalez sits on the seawall that fronts downtown Havana and dreams of America. Although he has no money and no passport, the out-of-work stevedore is convinced that in the United States he could find the prosperity that Cuba's revolution has failed to provide.

``Of course I will go to America someday. It is my dream,'' he says. ``Life is hard here for the young. There are no jobs, no houses. I want to go to the US. I want to have a car, a house, a girlfriend. I think that life is better in the United States.''

Like dozens of young Cubans who haunt the streets of central Havana, Mr. Hernandez (not his real name) is a dropout from the revolution that Fidel Castro launched 31 years ago.

As young Cubans witness the dismantling of the Iron Curtain, they are increasingly envious of the freedoms granted their counterparts in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and they present Mr. Castro with a growing challenge.

Among many young people, the achievements of the revolution - including health and educational systems which are perhaps the finest in the developing world - are taken for granted. The majority may not want to leave, but many want perestroika (restructuring) to come to Cuba.

``In Cuba now we need a change. There are few jobs for the young. There are few apartments, and it is difficult to say what you think,'' says Luis, a student who declined to give his full name.

The fathers of both Jos'e and Luis left Cuba during the Mariel boat lift in 1980. Luis studies at a polytechnic college.

Jos'e, unable to work because of an injury, trades pesos for tourists' dollars in Havana's thriving currency black market.

``Things were better before, the old people tell us. Then, it was hard to earn money, but when you had money you could buy food,'' says Jos'e. ``Now there is no money and there is no food. In principle, the revolution was good. But now things are bad. It went from revolution to socialism to communism. Now things are hard.'' Despite the discontent, Castro remains firmly in control, and membership in the Communist Party has climbed steadily since the early 1960s. Cubans such as Hernandez receive little pity from the revolution's defenders.

``You can find people who want blue jeans, but this country has priorities,'' says Guillermo Cabrera Alvarez, a senior editor for Granma, the Cuban Communist Party's official newspaper.

``What would hurt me a lot is if you ran into a young man and he said he didn't have a doctor if he needed an operation and couldn't get one, or if he didn't have a school or was barefoot and begging. We feel those other things are superfluous,'' he says.

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