Cuba’s New Now: After Half a Century Under Fidel, Cubans Feel a Wary Sense of Possibility. This Time, Don’t Expect a Revolution
…”Viva Cuba Libre,” Eduardo muttered, mimicking a revolutionary exhortation we’d seen emblazoned high on an outdoor wall. Long live free Cuba. “Free from both of them,” he said. “That’s when there might be real change.”
If there is in fact a Cuba under serious transformation—and you can find Cubans all over the country engaging now in their own versions of this same debate—Eduardo is a crucial component of it, although not for the reasons you might think. “Dissident” is the right label for a subset of politically vocal Cubans, notably the bloggers whose critical online missives have gained big followings outside the country, but Eduardo is no sort of dissident. He’s not fleeing persecution by the state. He’s just young, energetic, and frustrated, a description that applies to a great many of his countrymen. Ever since he was a teenager in high school, Eduardo told me, it had been evident to him that adulthood in revolutionary Cuba offered exactly nothing by way of personal advancement and material comfort to anybody except the peces gordos. The big fish. (Well, literally translated, the fat fish—the tap-on-the-shoulder parties.) Nothing works here, Eduardo would cry, pounding the steering wheel of whatever car he’d hustled on loan for the day: The economic model is broken, state employees survive on their tiny salaries only by stealing from the jobsite, the national news outlets are an embarrassment of self-censored boosterism, the government makes people crazy by circulating two national currencies at once.
“I love my country,” Eduardo kept saying. “But there is no future for me here.”
Over nine weeks of traveling around Cuba this year and last, I heard this particular sequence of complaints so often, and from so many different kinds of people, that it began to form a kind of collective national lamentation: I love my country and it doesn’t work. There were loyal optimists among the complainers, to be sure, and after a while, whenever I encountered one, I found myself marshaling ammunition to bring Eduardo. I wanted to hear how he’d respond, but when I was being honest with myself, I realized that I also wanted to talk him out of the boat. (Sharks swim in those Cuba-to-Florida waters. The currents are dangerous. There are drownings, people never heard from again.)
Optimist: Roberto Pérez, a shaggy-haired environmental biologist, filled with enthusiasm about the progress of Cuba’s extensive urban agriculture and organic farming projects. Pérez is six years older than Eduardo. Eighty percent of his own high school graduating class, Pérez told me, has left the country. “But things arechanging,” he said. “Very fast. And there are so many good things here that people take for granted, because they were born with them. You tell me another place where a kid can grow up so safe, get his vaccinations, get his education, not be involved in gangs or drugs. I can see people crossing the river north from Mexico, to get away from that. But from here? To face the Florida strait? I fail to see it.”