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article imageCuba's revolution generation: Few regrets

By Carlos Batista (AFP)     Feb 24, 2015 in World

Communist Cuba's revolution has held sway for so long -- 56 years -- that those who remember no other system are nearing retirement age with a mixture of fond memories, and just a few regrets.

"We were part of a generation that changed everything, romantic, contradictory and maybe one of a kind," journalist and author Manuel Juan Somoza, 69, told AFP.

For political analyst Jesus Arboleya, 67, it was the revolution generation under a young lawyer named Fidel Castro that fought hardest to get Cuba on a different path -- and wound up the Americas' only one-party communist nation.

"We were certain we were going to win. And that is precisely how we acted.

"We also are known for the personal sacrifices we have made, and for honesty. Some people now call it idealism, but it was what made our lives make sense," Arboleya told AFP.

Around the world, many remember the international role Cuba played in the Cold War.

But inside Cuba, in the 1960s and 70s in particular, the revolution generation ("GenRev") became known for its activist commitment to making Cuba's divided and unequal society a symbol of equality.

They led the way on national campaigns to wipe out illiteracy, organizing students and picking crops for the greater good.

As the generation nears the retirement age of 60, many GenRev are proud they made change in Cuba, but realize mistakes were made along the way.

"We were a really committed and optimistic generation," Arboleya said.

Yet at the same time, GenRev took orders from authority, and did not rebel.

"We always were unconditionally taking orders from the generation that won" the revolution, said Somoza, who wrote a history of his generation, "Tales from the Belly of the Beast."

A legendary folk singer for the generation, Silvio Rodriguez, put it in one verse: "virar esta tierra de una vez" ("change this country's course completely.")

"Our generation had a lot of goals. Too many, maybe. But even if we only achieved some of them, that will do," said demographer Antonio Aja, 61.

- Looking back, and ahead -

An old American car with an image of former Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana  on January 19  2...
An old American car with an image of former Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana, on January 19, 2015
Yamil Lage, AFP/File

Before 1959, Cuba was allied with the United States and was advanced economically by Latin American standards. Socially however it was wracked by inequality, illiteracy and lack of access to education and health care.

In the Cold War era that saw Havana become a staunch US foe for over five decades, GenRev was the leading edge of change.

There are over a million unofficial members of GenRev, about nine percent of Cuba's population. Some are currently leaders in President Raul Castro's government.

Thousands of people in GenRev, particularly in rural areas, were the first in their families to learn to read -- then dare to dream of higher education, and achieve it.

"We had an academic, ethical and social training that despite some pressures was really valuable," said writer Leonardo Padura, 59.

In 2018, the generation that won the revolution, led by Fidel Castro and now Raul Castro, is scheduled to hand the reins of the government to a new generation.

Described as the generation of "institutional revolution," they are led by Castro's designated successor Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel. Economy Minister Marino Murillo and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez are also notable leaders from the next generation.

- Was it worth it? -

Meanwhile, Cuba's economy is in crisis; its leading political and economic ally, Venezuela, is deep in its own economic morass.

As the downturn continues, Cuba's GenRev are looking forward to modest pensions in a country where workers' average salary is about $20 a month.

Cuba's economy is in crisis  but there is renewed economic optimism after Havana and Washington...
Cuba's economy is in crisis, but there is renewed economic optimism after Havana and Washington in December announced plans to seek closer ties
Yamil Lage, AFP/File

Cubans for years have been awaiting changes that would mean a better living standard. The government however does not want to aggravate social differences or undermine the revolution's political achievements.

There is renewed economic optimism after Havana and Washington in December announced plans to seek closer ties.

But US economic sanctions are still in place and what lies ahead is uncertain.

It's not clear "if so much sacrifice was worth it, yet," Somoza said.

Others say they wouldn't change a thing about living their life dedicated to one communist leadership.

"Some things did not go the way I would have chosen, sure. But I have nothing to be sorry about," said Arboleya.

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