“El que sigue:” Cuba’s next generation faces a nation in flux

By Mike Adams, Havana, Cuba, January 2018

Cuban President Raul Castro is set to step down from office in April. In just a few months, the country will have its first head of state from outside the Castro family since military dictator Fulgencio Batista was ousted from power in 1959.

The nation’s next president will be elected by the 612 members of the National Assembly, Cuba’s main legislative body, after parliamentary elections are held on April 19. First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel is widely seen as Castro’s successor, but any Cuban citizen over 18 years old can run for the position.

Cuba’s next leader will inherit the daunting task of navigating through a pivotal period in the nation’s history without the authority of the Castro name. For Cuban diplomat Camilo Garcia-Lopez Trigo, uncertainty is the only guarantee for the future.

“The most important decisions made today in Cuba are in the hands of the new generation of Cubans,” Garcia-Lopez Trigo said. “You don’t see one that is going to be the next leader, who is going to replace Raul Castro.”

El Capitolo: Cuba’s capitol building and the seat of the National Assembly in Havana.

The diplomat believes that Cuban politics will change dramatically as the revolutionary guard passes the torch to the next generation.

“Not having anyone in the leadership from the generation who made the revolution is going to create a completely different perspective on the relationship between the constituency and the leadership,” Garcia said. “It’s not the same when you have the people who made the revolution as your president as it is having a regular citizen.”

Cuba’s political and economic fate have been tied to its relations with the United States ever since President John F. Kennedy issued an embargo on all American trade with Cuba in 1962. The nation has withstood over 50 years isolated from the largest economic force in the world, and while relations began to normalize under former US President Barack Obama, current President Donald Trump has tightened restrictions since he took office.

Opinions of Trump vary on the island. Jonathan Ruvira Perez, a sales representative at Clandestina, a famous Havana clothing store that makes its products in the US, believes President Trump is directly impeding Cuba’s advancement.

“I think that what we really need right now is for Trump to go away,” Ruvira said. “All the progress that Obama made, Trump is taking back. All these guys in the government in Cuba have the same ideals, but if there’s someone in the states willing to work with them to make change, I think we may have a future like we expected with Obama.”

A European-made gas truck on a side street in Havana, Cuba.

Despite popular opposition to the blockade, Cuban journalist Cristina Escobar worries the nation will be unable to handle the shock of its eventual repeal.

“We don’t know how to live without the embargo, our economy is not ready for that,” Escobar said. “We don’tknow how to deal normally with the world.”

Escobar is also concerned that US business interests will hold sway over Cuban affairs like they did during the Batista government.

“They use the word ‘normalization,’ normal relations with the US,” Escobar said. “And I wonder, is it possible to have normal relations with the US? Was it normal before 1959? I’m afraid that the only possibilities are none or everything, no relations or Puerto Rico 2.0.”

Safi Quinteros Navarro, a housewife and mother of two living in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, hopes a changing Cuban economy will help people like her children make a better living in the future.

“I’d like to see that the salary that people get matches their work and the general prices,” Quinteros said. “That’s the main change I’d like to see in this country.”

While many Cuban people desire a more capitalistic economy, Canadian author Hal Klepak, a military history professor and expert on Cuba, believes the Cuban government is wary of rapid change. Even the small pushes towards capitalistic reform the government has made, Klepak argues, have ultimately been opposed by the Cuban people.

“Everybody has lunch, at their work if they work for the state,” Klepak. “So, of course they say ‘we’ll raise the salaries a little’ and they charge for that. Food prices worldwide are not what they were, so what you’re making in exchange for giving up your lunch is half of it. So while people support the move towards greater capitalism, not when it affects them.”

While experts inside and outside of Cuba doubt the youth’s willingness to stand for Fidelista values, at least one young Cuban said his generation’s commitment should not be underestimated.

“Yes, they believe,” Jorge David, a 14-year-old student from Vedado, said. “Because there are multiple achievements from the revolution. Medicine, free education, everything. That’s good! We are expecting a positive change.”

Interviews were conducted in Spanish and later translated.