Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"What Revolution is this?" Fatigued Cubans size up 50-year fight

"What Revolution is this?" Fatigued Cubans size up 50-year fight
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, December 31, 2008

As the Cuban Revolution marks its 50th anniversary Thursday, Cubans old,
young, weary and proud, are wearing mixed emotions on their sleeves.

Speaking bluntly at 85 years young, Dulce Maria Arranz -- who did her
part to help Fidel Castro's revolution -- issues a report card on a
half-century: "I do not like communism, but I don't like the Americans
either. Hell, we've got a lot left ahead of us to do."

Tossed out on a lounge chair in her humble old home, Arranz remembers 50
years ago like it was yesterday, when the swirl of history's page
turning saw US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista driven from power.

Santiago, Cuba's eastern second city in the dry shadow of the Sierra
Maestra range, watched closely back when a bold young lawyer named Fidel
Castro, who spent part of his youth here, at age 26 in 1953 attacked the
local Moncada Barracks under Batista before being driven into exile.

When Castro returned in 1956 with a motley crew of 81 men fighting for
change, Santiago was first on board to back the change Castro led.

But at the time, it was believed to be democratic and Castro had not
publicly embraced communism. Later when he did, benefiting from anti-US
Cold War alliance, some Cubans were disappointed, while others kept
following Fidel Castro's lead.

It was at Santiago's sprawling park that Fidel Castro declared victory
before an enthralled crowd on the night of January 1, 1959.

And it will be there that President Raul Castro, 77 -- who took Cuba's
helm from his ailing older brother Fidel, 82, officially last year --
will lead the anniversary ceremony Thursday.

As is the case across this country of more than 11 million, in Santiago,
a half century of Revolution -- during most of which Fidel Castro
revelled in playing David to a US Goliath -- has left many proud,
disappointed, others disgusted, some outraged and most hungry for an
easier life.

With her wheezy asthmatic's voice, Dulce Maria recalled with pride how
she hid weapons and medicine in her ceiling and toilet tank for "the
boys from the Sierra" the rebels who came down from the mountain range.

"I used to have a little store," recalls Arranz. "When Fidel came in,
they took it away from me, because they took over businesses. But I
never said a bad thing about him even though they took my own business away.

"In the end, you are going to die with nothing!," said Arranz.

Satisfied with her monthly retirement from a candy factory, Arranz takes
home 200 pesos or nine dollars a month. She says Cubans are forgetting
the repression there was under Batista and how far Cuba -- the Americas'
only communist country -- has come in education and heath care access.

But across this hilly city of a half million, where music is everywhere
on steep streets crowded with colonial-style homes, one 20ish young man
admits privately that his dream is to get the government permit he needs
to emigrate legally.

With his hands covered in car grease, Angel Ayala, 79, works on the
little gas tank he has made from a cooking oil can and rigged up to his
Russian-made Lada. He says he owes the Revolution everything, from his
car to his kids' education.

But Francisco, a bus driver who asked not to give his last name, asked
pointedly: "What Revolution is this?"

"I like the political system, but I have to do illegal things because
the 335 pesos (14 dollars a month) I earn is not enough to raise three
kids," the 46-year-old stressed.

Outside the secondary school where Fidel Castro once attended a
then-Jesuit school, one girl with red hair, 17, said privately: "these
are different times, and changes ought to be made."

"Everthing is controlled; I want freedom, and for my children in the
future not to have a hard time just putting food on the table," said
Joaquin Beltran, 21, who said he would like to take his economist's
degree and move to Italy.

Dulce Maria says that at her age, she has heard it all.

"Lots of people have hard times, but they are not starving. The
Revolution is not rich," she said beneath a flat-screen TV a nephew
living in Miami sent her.

"I am going to watch Raul (Castro) in the park on that, because Fidel is
sick. We all have to die," Arranz said.

"Look honey, there are people who love Fidel and people who don't," she
said, next to a black-and-white picture she posed for 50 years ago, hung
proudly on her crumbling wall.

Story by Isabel Sanchez from AFP
AFP 12/31/2008 08:04 GMT

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