14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, 4 April 2017 — There was a time when its red card was a source of pride and most teenagers dreamed of entering its ranks. But those days have been left behind for the Young Communists Union (UJC), an organization that turns 55 this Tuesday, with an aging image and a noticeable decrease in its membership.
Founded in 1962, the UJC was a copycat of the Soviet Komsomols, creating a youth front that served as a quarry for the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). In the midst of the enthusiasm of those years there were massive “processes of growth,” with the signing up of numerous members, but today many evade or reject this opportunity.
“I never questioned whether or not to enter the UJC, it was what all my classmates did and I joined,” recalls Gladys Marrero, a retired nurse who worked with the organization for more than a decade. “In those years everything was different, people believed much more what was said in the meetings,” she says.
Marrero was sanctioned in her local committee in 1980 for not participating in acts of repudiation against those who emigrated during the Mariel Boatlift
Marrero was sanctioned in her local committee in 1980 for not participating in acts of repudiation* against those who emigrated during the Mariel Boatlift. “In the polyclinic where I worked a lab technician asked to step down to be able to leave [the country] and the UJC prepared a rally to ‘say goodbye’ to her,” she remembers. She didn’t want to participate in “those antics” and turned in her card.
Of the nearly three million young people living in Cuba, according to the most recent Population and Housing Census of 2012, only 300,752 are affiliated with the UJC, which operates through 33,000 base committees across the island. The figure is much lower than almost 600,000 members who were on the rolls in 2007, when the country was in the midst of the effervescence of the Battle of Ideas.
Yosvani, 25 years old and resident of Aguada de Pasajeros in Cienfuegos, was one of the young people who enrolled in the UJC during those years. “Several municipal leaders came to our high school and said they were going to undertake massive growth throughout the country, with more than 10,000 new militants,” he tells this newspaper.
Over time, the young man lost interest because “there were too many meetings” and “they summoned us for anything.” One day he pretended that he had a serious health problem and asked for his discharge. In his local committee alone “more than half of the militants left,” he says. Some alleged family complications, but Yosvani believes they actually did it out of “lack of interest.”
In Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, several young people waiting to enter the United States also once had the organization’s red membership card in their pockets. Richard, a fictitious name to avoid retaliation, has been stranded for two months at the US border after the cancellation of the wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed Cubans who stepped foot on American soil to stay. Although he calls himself a “revolutionary” he does not plan to mention his affiliation to US immigration officials should they “reverse Obama’s decision and let the Cubans in.”
The migrant served as general secretary of his local committee and believes that “the UJC helped many young people not to fall into delinquency and to direct their lives”
The migrant, who spoke with 14ymedio through videoconferencing, served as general secretary of his local committee and believes that “the UJC helped many young people not to fall into delinquency and to direct their lives.” However, he believes that the organization “fell into a rut” although “it still has a large presence in schools and workplaces, so it could take advantage of that structure.”
In the middle of last year a young Cuban migrant was declared “inadmissible” by the US authorities because she confessed to having belonged to the Young Communists Union between 2010 and 2013.
The absence of leadership has also hampered the activity of these komsomols. Of the UJC’s dozen first secretaries since its creation, more than half ended up being ousted while they leading the UJC or in later positions. The most famous cases were Luis Orlando Domínguez (1972-1982), Carlos Lage (1982-1986) and Roberto Robaina (1986-1993). The fear of ending up like them slows down many who would like to present themselves as more active and creative. Charisma is paid for dearly in these types of responsibilities.
“People do not want to take positions inside the UJC to avoid getting into trouble,” says Yosvani. “That’s a tremendous burning,” he quips. The young man criticizes the “lack of power of the militants who go along with many things in the meetings but they do not have ability to influence decision making.”
In 2015 and during meetings of the organization before the 10th Congress, the militants expressed their concern about the UJC’s stagnation
In 2015 and during meetings of the organization before the 10th Congress, the militants expressed their concern about the UJC’s stagnation. “It needs to be a living organism that has diversity, is truly transformed and represents young people,” said Han García, a student at the Victoria de Giron [Bay of Pigs Victory] Faculty of Medical Sciences.
In an attempt to revitalize the organization and during an extraordinary meeting of the UJC in the middle of last year, the psychologist Susely Morfa González was named first secretary of the organization, replacing Yuniasky Crespo Baquero. Shortly afterwards, her meteoric rise continued when she was chosen as a deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power and made a member of the Council of State.
The young woman had turned in a combative performance at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April 2015, starring in several acts of repudiation in which she labeled activists and exiles who participated in a parallel event with civil society as “lackeys, mercenaries, self-financed, underpaid by imperialism.”
On Tuesday, in an interview with the official press, Morfa stated as a purpose of the UJC “to add to it so that it is an organization for everyone, so that each young person feels ever closer to it.” The secretary general estimates that among young Cubans “the vast majority is revolutionary,” although she acknowledged that “some people are questioning whether the new generations are aware of their social role.”
The UJC has set out to capture young entrepreneurs at any cost but does not seem to have found much enthusiasm
But the functional paralysis and the diminution of its ranks are not the only concerns for the leaders of the UJC. The growth of the private sector has widened the phenomenon of young people who are outside the organization’s control and who work in a system governed by the laws of supply and demand.
Of the more than half a million self-employed workers on the island, 159,563 are young. The UJC has set out to capture young entrepreneurs at any cost but does not seem to have found much enthusiasm.
“What I like about my work is that there are no meetings, no union, and I do not have to donate part of my salary to the Territorial Troop Militias, much less go to UJC meetings,” says Roland, a worker in a restaurant in Chinatown, in Havana.
“Provincial and national leaders have come to talk to the young people here to raise awareness and make them militants, but people just aren’t up for that,” he reflects. “Now life is harder than when my parents were in the UJC, you have to earn money with a lot of effort and there is no time for so many meetings,” he finishes.
*Translator’s note: This video – “Gusano” (Worm) – is about a current day repudiation rally and the opening scenes show video from the Mariel Boatlift repudiation rallies.