Havana's Disenchanted Youth
Cuba is struggling to keep its young population happy. Despite some recent changes on the island, the youthful alienation is one of the biggest problems facing the government.
Many young people feel frustrated and trapped in an outmoded authoritarian society. The last generation to have grown up under the Castro’s is largely alienated from the ideals of the revolution and detached from the Cuban way of politics. Young people don’t want to experience the same economic hardships as their parents and long for freedom of speech and – maybe even more – economic opportunities. Some youths might have a wary sense of possibility these days, but most still don’t see a future for themselves in Cuba and dream of leaving the island.
There is a widening gap between the have and have-nots. Cubans benefiting from remittances from family abroad or those with tourism jobs, have more chance of taking advantage of the new possibilities. Others risk being left out of the promise of prosperity brought on by economic reforms.
The social gains of the revolution, mainly free education and health care, are valued but no longer considered sufficient reasons to make sacrifices and endure austerity. Young people don’t want to deal with low wages, food and supplies shortages, an infrastructure in disrepair and a lack of housing. An average government salary is less than $25, largely insufficient to satisfy all necessities. Eighteen-year-old Shanelis, a hospital aid, said « we always have to chose or we buy a clothes item or we buy food. There is not much we can do with our salary. »
The individual responsibility toward the collective is low. Cuban youth has grown up in an environment where cheating and deception are an acceptable way of supplementing a meager salary. « People don’t consider it immoral but I think it is destroying the minds of the Cubans » said nineteen-year-old art school student Aurora. « Most young people are very materialistic, they’re only talking about getting stuff and how great life in Miami is ».
Even with modest changes and prospects of more to come, the rift between the promises of the government and the youth’s expectations is widening. Cuba is at a crossroads and its young generation is a potential explosive social group for the Castro government and its successors.