Sunday, November 22, 2015

Cuban youth want political change

Cuban youth want political change
Richard Reitano 4:44 p.m. EST November 21, 2015

As a graduate student with a Latin American Studies minor and as a young
man, along with my fellow Americans who lived through the CIA-sponsored
Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in
October 1962, I have been fascinated by U.S.-Cuban relations. I have
always wanted to visit the island nation ever since. In fact,
Cuban-American relations historically have been very troubled ever since
the U.S. intervened against Spain in the so-called Spanish-American War
in 1898.

My wife and I and two friends were able to spend seven nights in Cuba in
late October this year, traveling from Montreal to avoid the much longer
trip to Miami, and flying from there to Cuba. After we arrived in Cuba,
we were immediately impressed by the beauty of the island and its
location in the Caribbean. We did observe, however, many examples of
income inequality in terms of housing as we traveled from the airport to
Havana. Many houses are in serious need of repair as are public
buildings, although many homes and historic buildings in the capital are
in the process of being renovated, including the capitol building, which
is somewhat modeled after the American capitol building. The great
public buildings in Havana are beautiful and majestic to behold. We ate
mostly in "paladares," private homes converted to small, intimate
restaurants, serving outstanding food, and now operated with smaller
taxes in order to encourage more private enterprise on the island.

We also visited the Museo de Belles Artes, a wonderful museum displaying
Cuban modern and traditional art, the Museo de la Revolución, dedicated
to telling the story behind the Cuban revolution, a tobacco farm, and
Ernest Hemmingway's home outside of Havana. We were able to travel to
many other sights, including a superbly maintained botanical garden,
mountains in the Vinales Valley, and we were impressed by the number of
UNESCO declared and maintained sights. I would be remiss if I did not
mention the great old cars mostly from the 1950s, which exist in
significant numbers all over the island. My old man used to drive a
Buick Roadmaster, and I couldn't wait to see cars in Cuba from that
period. But, as a Cuban told us, in Cuba if you drive a car, you also
have to be a mechanic.

As we ventured forth from our hotel in Central Havana, very close to Old
Havana, we were impressed with the number of Cubans who spoke English,
and were honest with us in evaluating what is going on in their country.

Although there is free health care, free education through college and
subsidized housing, incomes are generally quite low, and most Cubans
have a hard time making a living. In short, communism isn't working. As
one young Cuban told us, communism is mostly for old people and doesn't
really reflect the political views of the young who want change. The PCC
(Cuban Communist Party), however, remains resistant to change and
largely supported by older Cubans. In the 1960s, it was a crime even to
listen to the Beatles or Elvis; that's no longer true, but the road to
democratic change will be long and winding.

Although the media is still controlled by the government, as is social
media, young people will continue to find ways to work around and
through government controls. Email service, however, is available, and
CNN International was also available at our hotel.

The best hope for a diminishing younger population in Cuba is for
normalized relations with the U.S. and the removal of the American
sanctions if the young are ever going to have the opportunity to
influence future democratic changes on the island.

So, it should be: "Cuba Si, Communism No," but it will never happen
unless we open the doors, which we closed back in 1961.

Richard Reitano is professor emeritus in government at Dutchess
Community College and adjunct professor in International Studies at
Vassar College. He is president emeritus of the Board of Directors of
the National Collegiate Conference Association and director of the BOCES
Summer Scholars Program for Dutchess County High School students.

Source: Cuban youth want political change -

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