New Embassy, Same Old Dictatorship

Saturday, August 8, 2015
An excerpt from The New York Times' story, "Cuban Youth See New U.S. Embassy, but Same Old Drab Life":

While the news media was buzzing about the new American Embassy, which had reopened for the first time in more than 50 years, barely a word passed among the Cuban youth about the many changes afoot in their nation.

“Change? My life won’t change,” said Yunior Rodriguez Soto, 17, posted by the court with a few friends. “I mean, look how we’re living, look how we are playing?” he said, pointing at the goal, which had been knocked askew.

He paused. The ball zipped out of bounds and a friend raced to retrieve it. Change, in his mind, would come in spite of the government, not because of it.

“They won’t let it happen,” he said, referring to the Cuban government. “It’s just how they are.”

Much has been made of the historic shift underway in Cuba, where the government is making strides to open the ailing economy to world markets and re-establish relations with the United States for the first time in half a century. For many, that has raised hope of a new prosperity.

But there is an air of cynicism among the Cuban youth who see the ideals of Fidel Castro’s revolution as dated as the battered cars that traverse Havana’s streets. Once so integral to life on the island, they are relics of a bygone era, removed from the economic imperatives that are driving the young to flee in record numbers.

As much as the young welcome political opening and economic reform, such changes are unlikely to filter down to their lives anytime soon. Measurable change will come slowly, stalled between the leadership’s desire for prosperity and its determination to maintain control.

Even with evidence of change in the streets of Havana — new clubs, bars and glimmering restaurants that rival those of more affluent Caribbean neighbors — life for many Cubans has barely improved. And that may well inform the Cuban authorities’ biggest challenge in coming years: managing expectations.

“So far, the only way to see change is to make a boat and sail off,” said Day├ín Roa Santana, 20, a Cuban baseball player, who did just that in late December.