Friday, September 25, 2009

Thoughts on “el Concierto de la Paz” and our Unfounded Optimism

After nearly a week of euphoria, I think it’s time the overly optimistic Cuban-American community put their feet back on the ground. For the past week, I’ve heard all sorts of claims about the value of the Juanes concert, how it will build hope amongst the Cuban youth, how it’s a sign the regime is changing, how it’s a sign the exile community is changing. I must respectfully disagree.

Hope derived from this concert is from the mistaken impression that Cuba’s youth will be motivated to pursue its freedom and the Cuban government will not be able to control it.

I’m not quite sure what concert people saw, but here’s the one I saw:
· The only performers given any leeway in what they said were foreigners, and even then, they were obviously limited in their freedom of speech.
· The two “questionable” (in the eyes of the Cuban government) Cuban artists that were allowed to perform, X Alfonso and Carlos Varela, were kept on the tightest of leashes (particularly Varela) and their combined performances lasted fewer than 30 minutes. Varela was chaperoned off stage by security as soon as both songs were over (as his performance was divided in two…God forbid the Cuban people see him on stage for longer than 7 minutes at a time.
· The final group performance of the concert allowed only the foreigners to keep microphones in their hands; the microphone stayed far away from Varela and Alfonso.
· So, again, we see that foreigners are given more rights than Cubans, even Cuban artists…it’s nothing new for Cuba, but perhaps we can point it out and not pretend like this was some major tumbling of walls.

So, my question is: How do the Cuban youth derive hope from this? It remains obvious to any Cuban who watched the concert that nothing had changed in Cuba or its government.

Yes, the exile community was mentioned for perhaps the first time in 50 years. But again, how does this encourage hope for freedom for Cubans? What occurred was a concert, nothing more, nothing less. The Cuban people were able to enjoy the performances of world-famous mega stars, all the while knowing that the following day would be the same as the previous.

I am heartened to see that the Cuban government did not politicize the concert the way that it could have, that it did not manipulate the statements of the artists that performed. I sincerely thought that they would and am glad they did not.

But the Cuban government persists in being a repressive, near-totalitarian dictatorship. Hundreds of “questionable” Cuban youth were told by state police that they could not attend the concert. This is not freedom. This is not a changing government.

The message was sent loud and clear to the Cuban people: if you’re a foreigner, you’re safe; if you’re Cuban, you will continue to be unable to speak your truth…just like Alfonso, just like Varela.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cuba’s Youth: The New Opposition

ICCAS' latest Cuba Focus, by Dr. Andy Gomez:
Cuba’s Youth: The New Opposition

Since the start of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro and his government have transformed Cuba’s educational system into an indoctrinating tool to program Cuba’s youth to accept and promote Marxist ideology. Every student begins his school day by reciting in his school courtyard “Pioneros por el comunismo, seremos como el ‘Che’.” (“Pioneers for communism-we will be like ‘Che’”). However, the ideological ties of the youth are weak, to say the least; they have only a distorted version of what “El Che” actually represents. They also consider Fidel Castro to be a symbol of the past, not representative of their generation. There is a huge gap between the Cuban youth and the “Generation of the Revolution.” The older generation insists on remaining in the past and uses the revolution as an excuse to empower themselves and survive the rigors of everyday life in Cuba.
About 2.2 million out of 11.2 million Cubans on the island today were born after 1991. They have no real perspective of the true purpose of the Revolution and very little knowledge of Cuba’s long history and culture, since most of Cuba’s history books focus on 1959 and beyond. People that live under totalitarian regimes survive within a “culture of fear.” They have developed a set of values and attitudes that define their daily behavior in order to meet their own wants and needs which are not compatible with the restrictions imposed by the state; the Cuban people are no exception.

Since 2002, we at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, have interviewed and surveyed hundreds of recently arrived Cubans, in addition to communicating regularly with Cuban youth groups on the island, in an effort to better understand their values and attitudes as a consequence of living in a totalitarian state. To better comprehend their patterns of psychological and social behavior, we used C.C. Hughes’ methodology (1993) which defines culture as (1) A socially transmitted system of ideas (2) that shapes and describes experiences, (3) gives names to surrounding realities, (4) is saved by members of a particular group, and (5) coordinates and determines behavior. We followed many of these individuals for a six month period and found that many began to adopt new values and attitudes that are expected in a free civil society.

Today, the values imposed by the totalitarian regime of the Castro brothers are being challenged by a new opposition—Cuba’s youth. To them the values of the Revolution are not relevant; they have started to contradict the purpose and principles of the current socialist system. Cuba’s youth are an opposition that wants “change,” even if that change is not fully defined. Most want their basic needs to be met such as better housing, more food, jobs, etc. They all want hope for the future, freedom and the right to pursue their own happiness.

Even though some of the youth have become apathetic or distrustful of politics, many do want to play a role in shaping Cuba’s future government. Yet, the space provided by the current government is very limited and controlled. Some of these youngsters have been expelled from universities or fired from their jobs simply for questioning the Cuban government’s policies and practices.

The biggest challenge for Cuba’s youth, and anyone else on the island, will be to figure out how to psychologically transform their values and attitudes in order to develop and sustain a democratic society in the future. We have learned many lessons from Central and Eastern European countries that have gone from a totalitarian regime to a more “democratic” system. Their outcomes have been mixed—it is not easy; it takes time, tolerance, compromise and a willingness to learn from the past to build a better future.

Finally, one last essential challenge will be how to keep the young in Cuba. Their patience is running out, understandably so. In interviews recently conducted with young people on the island, it’s clear that there is some hope that once Fidel Castro is dead, General Raul Castro could very well introduce new reforms; these reforms may be too late and deal mostly with the current economic crisis. In the eyes of Cuba’s youth, Raul Castro will try to preserve the failed ideology of the Revolution. For them, this is unacceptable. The Cuban youth’s demands go much beyond what Raul Castro is willing to give. The frustrations amongst Cuba’s youth remain deep and the reality of the everyday struggle for freedom persists. How much longer can the system survive?
*Dr. Andy S. Gomez is Associate Provost, University of Miami; Senior Fellow, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.He was assisted in this article by Vanessa Lopez, Research Associate at ICCAS, and Giselle Recarey-Delgado, UM student.