Wednesday, December 31, 2008

At crossroads of change?

Cuba: At crossroads of change?
By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana

Cuba is facing the 50th anniversary of the revolution confronted by an
uncertain future.

Fidel Castro, who led the revolution and ruled the country for almost
half a century, has not been seen in public since undergoing major
surgery almost two-and-a-half years ago.

His brother Raul Castro has pushed through some modest but symbolic
reforms since taking over the presidency, but has also raised
expectations which have yet to be met.

The majority of Cubans were born after the revolution and declaration of
a communist state, knowing no other system or way of life. So what sort
of future are they hoping for?

Three people all under 30 in Havana gave me their views, asking that
that we did not use their real names or publish their photos.


Claudia, 28, is a receptionist at a hotel in Havana. Married with no
children, she lives reasonably comfortably by Cuban standards.

Her husband has a car and since Raul Castro changed the laws, they have
managed to buy a mobile phone.

"At the moment we have an impasse. We are waiting for change. We hope
that the relation between us and the United States would be better and
we hope that we have some economic change and social change."

Claudia dreams of opening a restaurant one day, and says she is prepared
to wait.

Like almost everyone in Cuba, Claudia earns the equivalent of about $25
(£17) a month in Cuban pesos. But by working in the tourist industry,
she gets some access to hard currency.

"I'm an optimist. You know it takes time to make big changes. Raul is
new in power - he has had only one year and he has to move very carefully.

One of the things that Fidel Castro tried to create with the revolution
was an egalitarian society - everyone was paid roughly the same, from
doctors to farm labourers.

"I think that this is a dream, but like all dreams it is impossible,"
she says, adding that people with better qualifications or who work
harder should earn more.

But Claudia is less concerned about the need for political reforms.

"I think that we have to continue as socialists because we have some
things that are good, like school that is free and medicine that is
free...Cuba is also a very safe country."


If Claudia is optimistic about the future, 23-year-old Isabel is not.

An English-language graduate from the University of Havana, she feels
she has no prospects of earning a decent living.

"I want to abandon the country. It's not because I don't like my country
- I enjoy being in Cuba, but I don't think I have a future here."

She is dating a young Canadian, hoping this will give her a legal way
out of the country.

Her dream is to work hard and send money home to her mother, a former
teacher. Isabel's grandparents were peasant farmers who never had access
to schools or education.

She is proud of her university degree in a country known for its
well-educated but demotivated workforce.

"We don't have the opportunity to be well paid...If we had that
motivation, everything would be different," she says.

Isabel is less worried about the political situation in Cuba.

"There is only one party, but I think it doesn't matter in the end. If
we have the possibility to change the economy of our country, I think a
lot of things can change at the same time."

But Isabel's patience is running out, fuelling her desire to migrate.

"But as soon as I can see any change in my country, I want to get back
because I love being in Cuba," she adds.


Tens of thousands of young Cubans are still fully signed up members of
the Union of Young Communists, the party's youth wing.

One of them is 21-year-old waiter Alberto.

"We don't want capitalism here, we want socialism," he says

"I want to fight to maintain the revolution. Fidel is our star. He's our
leader. He's amazing - I think he's the best man in the world that's
ever been, like Caesar or Napoleon only better."

Like everyone here, he proudly points to Cuba's health and education
systems. But he too wants to see economic reforms.

He is hoping Raul Castro will move Cuba towards a Chinese or Vietnamese
model with the Communist Party maintaining control, but allowing free
market reforms.

"Vietnam and China are communist, they are not capitalist but they think
like capitalists...It would make good sense here too."

Alberto would also like the right to travel abroad - he has family in
Miami he would like to visit and dreams of going to Spain one day.

Even with party faithful, Cuba at 50 faces pressure for change.

Names have been changed in accordance with the requests of those
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/12/31 11:24:44 GMT

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