Page last updated at 11:24 GMT, Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Cuba: At crossroads of change?

A boy eats ice-cream next to a shop window with the words '50th Anniversary of the Revolution', in Havana 28 December 2008
Most Cubans know no other way of life than the communist one

By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana

Cuba is facing the 50th anniversary of the revolution confronted by an uncertain future.

Fidel Castro, who led the revolution and ruled the country for almost half a century, has not been seen in public since undergoing major surgery almost two-and-a-half years ago.

His brother Raul Castro has pushed through some modest but symbolic reforms since taking over the presidency, but has also raised expectations which have yet to be met.

The majority of Cubans were born after the revolution and declaration of a communist state, knowing no other system or way of life. So what sort of future are they hoping for?

Three people all under 30 in Havana gave me their views, asking that that we did not use their real names or publish their photos.


Claudia, 28, is a receptionist at a hotel in Havana. Married with no children, she lives reasonably comfortably by Cuban standards.

Her husband has a car and since Raul Castro changed the laws, they have managed to buy a mobile phone.

"At the moment we have an impasse. We are waiting for change. We hope that the relation between us and the United States would be better and we hope that we have some economic change and social change."

Claudia dreams of opening a restaurant one day, and says she is prepared to wait.

Like almost everyone in Cuba, Claudia earns the equivalent of about $25 (17) a month in Cuban pesos. But by working in the tourist industry, she gets some access to hard currency.

"I'm an optimist. You know it takes time to make big changes. Raul is new in power - he has had only one year and he has to move very carefully.

I think we have to continue as socialists

One of the things that Fidel Castro tried to create with the revolution was an egalitarian society - everyone was paid roughly the same, from doctors to farm labourers.

"I think that this is a dream, but like all dreams it is impossible," she says, adding that people with better qualifications or who work harder should earn more.

But Claudia is less concerned about the need for political reforms.

"I think that we have to continue as socialists because we have some things that are good, like school that is free and medicine that is free...Cuba is also a very safe country."


If Claudia is optimistic about the future, 23-year-old Isabel is not.

An English-language graduate from the University of Havana, she feels she has no prospects of earning a decent living.

A street in Havana 29/12/2008
Many Cubans want economic reform of some sort

"I want to abandon the country. It's not because I don't like my country - I enjoy being in Cuba, but I don't think I have a future here."

She is dating a young Canadian, hoping this will give her a legal way out of the country.

Her dream is to work hard and send money home to her mother, a former teacher. Isabel's grandparents were peasant farmers who never had access to schools or education.

She is proud of her university degree in a country known for its well-educated but demotivated workforce.

"We don't have the opportunity to be well paid...If we had that motivation, everything would be different," she says.

Isabel is less worried about the political situation in Cuba.

"There is only one party, but I think it doesn't matter in the end. If we have the possibility to change the economy of our country, I think a lot of things can change at the same time."

But Isabel's patience is running out, fuelling her desire to migrate.

"But as soon as I can see any change in my country, I want to get back because I love being in Cuba," she adds.


Tens of thousands of young Cubans are still fully signed up members of the Union of Young Communists, the party's youth wing.

A street with graffiti in Spanish, "Long live Raul" and "Long live Fidel" in Havana
Cuba has been led by Fidel and now Raul for 50 years

One of them is 21-year-old waiter Alberto.

"We don't want capitalism here, we want socialism," he says

"I want to fight to maintain the revolution. Fidel is our star. He's our leader. He's amazing - I think he's the best man in the world that's ever been, like Caesar or Napoleon only better."

Like everyone here, he proudly points to Cuba's health and education systems. But he too wants to see economic reforms.

He is hoping Raul Castro will move Cuba towards a Chinese or Vietnamese model with the Communist Party maintaining control, but allowing free market reforms.

"Vietnam and China are communist, they are not capitalist but they think like capitalists...It would make good sense here too."

Alberto would also like the right to travel abroad - he has family in Miami he would like to visit and dreams of going to Spain one day.

Even with party faithful, Cuba at 50 faces pressure for change.

Names have been changed in accordance with the requests of those interviewed.

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