Saturday, January 2, 2010

The New Man and the Moon.

I was born in a small town far away from the buzz of our capital city, Havana, its darkness and shadows, the fuzzy life of its bars and streets. It could make a huge difference when it comes to understand how I acknowledged the city life, and its differences with a small tiny town in any of the provinces of Cuba, no matter where.

Havana was more complex and vibrant, of course, and you might start to notice immediately the contrasts between our countryside and the city. In a small town there are not too many pretty houses, our places of entertainment are the same to everyone, if any, and the gap between people’s standards are not too high. That’s the first thing it caught my attention in Havana: a small group of officials with a higher level of living, almost cornered in one or two small neighbourhoods, and the huge buzz of the shattered city for the majority of Cubans.

But there was another important factor: our generation. I belong to the first generation born with the Revolution, that one who came out in the first years of Castro, immersed in a sea of idealism, sacrifices and romantic aspirations, the generation who didn’t question anything and handed out everything: dreams, comfort, good sleep and tears, happiness and sadness. I belong to the generation who sacrificed a dream for a romantic moment of sharing, who stood hours and hours in front of the TV, in a public space watching our leaders, or in a total blackout playing an innocent game.

Today, all my dreams are gone. Today, five generations are coexisting, surviving and badly existing. An older group socialized prior the Revolution and in its 70s. An intermediate group born in the 40’s to whom my mother belong. A generation who came out between the 50’s and middle 70’s. The other group was born after 1975 and is now growing with crushed dreams and sceptical at everything, so far away from us. The last one is the youngest of all and was born after 1990.

But all of them, me included, were raised watching our neighbours jailed for voicing dissent. Here and there you, I, someone else remember a father, a relative, a friend, someone who became an “enemy” or someone to whom you couldn’t talk by reasons of opinions and dissent. Who doesn’t remember the act of repudiation of the 80’s? Who doesn’t recognise the same tail behind the latest repressions in Havana?

You can observe the current generation walking along the streets of Havana, seating on any corner, looking how tourists or estrangers are passing by, living a life away from the slogans and officials discourses. That generation is growing restless and in some cases it is political. But for many, it’s a desire for the basic technological and social touchstones of this era: twitter, text messages, facebook, cell phones, Hollywood movies and superstars, travel abroad and flat-screen plasma TVs. This under-45 generation is disconnected from the myths and legends of the past.

The bunch of youngsters you could observe along Neptuno, or in Malecon, has different levels of demands for freedom and expectations. I would say there is a big group who is only interested to access to a better life and more food, and that one is pretty visible in Havana. There is a more sophisticated and educated group of youngsters who are expecting more mobility and access to internet. I would say this group is on the brink to become more conscious socially and politically, but still on the edge. You can find a lot of them between the high educated youth, those ones who are assisting to our Universities, or in high school. The third group just jumped from the second group delineated above to become complete politically involved. They want more dramatic changes of the kind we saw in Easter Europe. That group is where you could find independent bloggers, young dissidents and underground groups like rockers, punk, people of the kind of Yoani Sanchez, the popular blogger.

Some analysts say that’s the reason why Raul Castro rolled out a series of timid changes in his first months in power, allowing Cubans to own cell phones, computers and go to tourist hotels, among others small freedoms. Even when you can’t lose the perspective that those are only cosmetic and inconsequential changes since such luxuries are out of reach to most Cubans, you have to admit that our youth embraced its “new liberties” with enthusiasm.

Leaving apart the facts of their ages, there are other differentiations among of them, political differences I would say. Those born after 1975 have exhibited actions and attitudes that create tensions with, if not outright defiance of the state. We don’t need to go too far to include all the underground blogosphere in it.

The political discourse of the top leaders (estate institutions and organizations) is out of sync with the interest of that youth and has alienated many of them. Evidences of their identity is manifested in such values as individualism, autonomy and consumerism which in turn have been expressed in the attempt to create independent organizations like “ARTE CALLE”, or “Proyecto Castillo de la Fuerza”, or “OMNI-ZONA FRANCA” more recently.

There are numbers that show how the youth is growing sceptical in any “revolutionary” values: 75% of the immigrants are young, many of them are leaving Cuba in rafts across the Florida Straits to US; 30% of the total are self-employed; many of them drop off our Universities in order to leave the country avoiding the two years period they have to pay to the estate for his studies.

For too long Cuba had lived with a huge gap between theory and practice, and that gap had resulted in the desocialization of the youth, especially in the form of rejection of officially sanctioned behaviours and attitudes.

We are highly educated and mobile, and that attitude is provoking a greater pressure for participation, and that one is conditional in Cuba on “revolutionaries’ credentials”, and political conformity. This is one of the most outrageous side effects of the Cuban Revolution. To work anywhere you need the credential of our Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, something that you have to pay with discretion, silence and conformity if you want to have granted a job in any place close to the tourists to reach the so-dreamed dollar. The system pays for his slavery as I could say.

Despite of all these, the Cuban youth is increasingly attracted to engaging in unofficial areas: religion, dissident organizations, and autonomous projects. We are channelling our political and social involvement into the informal sphere. That phenomenon begun in the earliest 80’s, with groups like “ARTE CALLE” and its performances in the popular corner of 23 and L streets.

The false monolithicality embraced in the early years of the Revolution, and reflected in the official discourse is over and is, therefore, untenable in practice. We are no more in the 60’s. My little town is deserted of that youth engaged in faith and soul with the official Cuba.

I am here, in Canada, my friends are in US, Spain, even in places so far away like Australia. Those who cry slogans in public places, act of repudiations and plazas, are no longer believers. They don’t.

It is still alive the images of 1993, the worldwide well-known protest hold in Havana in August 5th. Those who threw stones against hotels and windows displays were the same who acclaimed Fidel Castro hours later, to later go to their houses and poke at him. And that is not a false story. We all know that.

The new man of the future is today an inner dissident with the Cuban Revolution. We are not dreaming with a walk on the moon. In daily basis, our youth is dreaming with the moon on a flat-screen plasma TV, where the superstars of Twilight saga are delighting them in any of the sequel of their movie.

And that, my friend, is the new man dreamed by Che Guevara.