14ymedio, Alberto Hernández, Santiago de Cuba, July 20, 2021 — “The word hunger is etched into my bones.” From the time he was born until he was almost 20 years old, Ruben grew up in a dysfunctional family where he suffered from malnutrition. “I ate poorly and only once a day,” he says. He is one of the thousands of young Cubans who these days are protesting in the streets, demanding freedom and an end to the current system.
Robbed of nutrients, his body did not develop normally. “In my teenage years I looked like I was eight-years-old,” he says. “After I turned to the streets to support myself, I was finally able get a little more to eat.” From that point on he started to grow and and managed to recover a bit. “I am one of those who was always afraid of going hungry so now I’ll go anywhere to shout “patria y vida” [homeland and life].”
His generation has been deeply impacted by scarcity. “I remember we use to get chicken once a month,” recounts Ignacio. “On one occasion my mother left my lunch out and, when I got home from school, I found the neighbor’s cat eating my monthly ration of chicken.” He has hated cats ever since. “And now I am all about “down Diaz-Canel!” he yells.
Yamila, a single 23-year-old mother, is desperate. “I don’t have milk. When there’s a blackout, there’s no bread, you can’t get rice, you can’t get sugar, there’s no meat, there’s nooooothing!” she shouts between expletives. She was among the mothers demonstrating in Santiago de Cuba on July 11.
Jobs in Cuba do not pay enough for young people to live on so many look for other options. “I graduated in civil engineering, like my father wanted, but now I transport passengers on my uncle’s electric motorcycle,” says Antonio. He was one of the many motorcyclists supporting Sunday’s demonstrations in Santiago. “I don’t want to spend my whole life driving people around. Down with communism!”
“Listen, talk to your aunt in Italy and tell her I am looking for an American who’ll marry me. I can’t stand mountain life anymore. As bad as it is here, it’s worse in Songo,” implores Dalia, who lives in a rural town in the province. “It doesn’t matter if he’s old, though I’d prefer him to be young and strong. What matters is that he gets me out of this prison. I have photos on my phone I can send over the internet.”
Eduardo and Marta are bewildered by their offspring, both professionals. “We gave our children the best education possible under communism,” they say. But after graduating from university, both made it clear they did not want to stay in Cuba. They did not want to live a life of poverty, hunger and scarcity like their parents had.
Today, their daughter lives in Chile and their son in Belgium. Both are well established in their chosen professions. Both express support for the demonstrations from the trenches of social media.
Gisela recounts these anecdotes with a certain sadness in her eyes. She graduated as a health care professional in 2018. “When I started working, I earned a little more than 1,000 pesos a month. I remember at the time the exchange rate was 25 pesos the dollar, and I could afford to go to and from work and buy a sandwich.
Now, after currency unification, she earns 4,000 pesos a month. “Supposedly, it’s more money but in reality it’s the same or less. Now my commute costs 80 pesos, 40 pesos each way, and the sandwich costs 20. A total of 100 pesos, four times more than before. And that doesn’t take into account that almost everything I need can only be bought with hard currency, which I do not have.” That is why, she says, she longs for a better Cuba and took to the streets to shout “patria y vida.”
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