The New Cuba
This morning's traditional massive march through Havana's Revolution Square marked International Workers Day, and it might make you think that nothing is changing in this Caribbean island of 11 million people.
But under the flag-waving surface, young people and workers are closely watching their new President Raul Castro.
He's opened a crack in the door for consumerism—cell phones, DVD players and slow cookers. Everyday items that could make life easier but that are still priced out of the range of the average Cuban's salary.
The new measures, says a 50-year old actress Yudith, are good for people "because they make people feel a little freer…whether or not you have money to buy is another question but you know you have the right, the access just like anybody else in the world."
A bigger change is the reorganization of agriculture to get farmers to produce more, to make the country self-sufficient in food production.
Juan Antonio Perez owns a 30 plus acre truck gardening farm in Guira de Melena about a 40 minute drive south east of the capital. He credits Raul Castro with making sure he gets paid on time for the crops he sells to the State. "Before there were delays in payment, no idea why, up to six and seven months. Now we get paid monthly and they're talking about moving payment up to every 10 or 15 days."
In addition, the government is now paying private and coop farmers more for their harvests, offering them more land and services.
These measures, Raul Castro has made clear, are not a dismantling of what Cuba calls its "Revolutionary Project" but changes necessary to shore up the socialist system.
So which way will he take the nation? What existing country might he want to borrow from?
"I would say that it would be a combination of Nordic socialism, Vietnamese socialism, Chinese socialism," suggests Cuban academic Rafael Hernandez, with a pinch of Venezuela and Bolivia thrown in.
Top on the wish list of nearly every Cuban we talked to was the desire for increased purchasing power. Their wages are barely enough to scrape by. Young workers and university students are particularly vocal about this and they are not waiting for the government to solve their problems. Four Cubans ranging in age from 19 to 26--a second year engineering student, a fourth year dentistry student, an economist and a computer specialist—tell us they have to make their own future. They don't want to be like their parents, the four say.
"Our fathers and mothers have dedicated their whole lives to the Revolution and are frustrated, still scraping by, unable to give us what they would like to."
Whether or not Raul Castro and the measures he is taking will respond to the yearnings of this younger generation is an open question.
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