The Regime’s Lost Cause: Preserving Its 'Culture'
Cuban leaders cannot shake off fears that the Castro legacy will be completely extinguished when the "historic generation" of the Revolution dies out, or when the first political reform measures are implemented in society. They know that young people do not believe in Marxist-Leninist socialism, and if some young people sing the Government’s praises, it is almost certainly as part of the double standard that is eating away at the nation's foundations.
However, ratifying the old maxim that "hope is the last thing you lose," the ruling class has turned to what it calls "the shield and sword of the nation": its culture. In those terms it recently held the Third Plenum of the Union of Young Communists' (UJC) National Committee.
Those who addressed the plenary –Abel Prieto, Miguel Barnet, Yuniasky Crespo Baquero, and company– urged young Cubans not to look to consumer society figures as their idols, but to associate success in life with spiritual rather than material values.
These are pretty words, but ones that clash with the reality being lived on the island. After all, can a young person show up with his student or labor credentials at a supermarket in Cuba and demand an item to satisfy a basic need, like a bottle of cooking oil or a carton of milk, barely covered by his monthly ration disbursal? Can a young man, armed with nothing but his decency and honesty, ever go to a private restaurant like the one where President Barack Obama ate, when the price of any dish there is equal to or greater than the average Cuban's monthly salary?
As for young people's preference for figures from consumer society, this is a process that has sometimes been fomented by the authorities themselves. In order not to grant media coverage to Cuban baseball players, who have increasingly abandoned the Island to play in the Major Leagues in the United States (Cuban television broadcasts only one MLB game per week, selecting those without any Cubans playing), television programming is packed with international soccer games, particularly the Spanish league. As a result, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are today the supreme idols of Cuba's youth, who, ironically, can barely name one Cuban soccer star.
For those young people who have regular Internet access and, therefore, are aware of national and international current events, this vapid rhetoric at the plenary could have sparked laughter, if not for the hypocrisy it entailed. How can one ask a humble Cuban to spurn materialism while figures like Antonio Castro Soto del Valle are frequenting luxurious international resorts and playing at exclusive golf courses?
One of the most "original" propositions advanced at this Third Plenum was articulated by Miguel Barnet, President of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC). He stated that "we are a country that has created too many opportunities for us to stay at home watching garbage movies. I regret that there are not more young people participating at the cultural programs in our theaters, and at conferences and poetry recitals" (Juventud Rebelde, 11 June).
Clearly Barnet is out of touch with the Cuban reality, after too long enjoying a car provided by the State, and with plenty of gasoline, allowing him to cruise from Cape San Antonio to Punta Maisí. He seems to be oblivious to the country’s inefficient public transport system, which forces citizens, especially on the outskirts of Havana and the country's inland cities, to stay at home.
And Mr. Barnet's attack on "garbage movies" could augur a kind of Cultural Revolution, plagued by prohibitions and dogmatism. This would also be in line with the reckless spirit of Point 219 of the National Plan for Economic and Social Development until 2030, which calls for inoculating Cuba's young people against the "harmful messages" of the hegemonic cultural industry.