The Agent-of-Change Generation

None of these Cubans voted in the 1976 constitutional referendum but all of them had the chance to do so in 2019. (Borja Garcia de Sola Fernandez)

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14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, August 8, 2019 — If we accept the convention that a generation spans a period of thirty years, then the so-called “historic generation” would encompass those born between 1910 and 1940. Similarly, the “generation of heirs” — also known as “the grateful generation” — came into the world between 1940 and 1970. Therefore, those who follow can be placed in the period spanning 1970 to 2000.

By the time they turn sixty in 2030, members of the last group will have reached the maximum age the current constitution allows for someone to be president of the republic. Coincidentally, at age thirty, they also are the minimum age required to hold the office.

It is likely that some of the oldest members of this group took part in the military adventures in Africa that ended in 1991. They became aware, to a greater or lesser degree, that holding religious beliefs was permissible, as proclaimed that same year by the IV Cuban Communist Party Congress. They grew up during the worst days of the Special Period, during the dollarization of the economy, the revival of farmers markets and the advent of self-employment.

This is the last generation to see, hear and read a living Fidel Castro, and to witness his decline and death. They are the ones for whom moving to another country is not beyond the realm of possibility. None of them voted in the 1976 constitutional referendum but all of them had the chance to do so in 2019. They are our millennials, adept at using new technologies and social media.

Most of them had to spend their pre-university years in schools in the countryside but those born after 1995 escaped this requirement, graduated with college degrees and are now established in their careers. This latter group spent more time with their families and are less affected by indoctrination.

They also have an overriding respect for the environment, a belief in gender equality and acceptance of all manner of sexual preferences.

Can we place our hope in this generation?

Optimists would say they do not feel the “sense of debt to the historic generation” that crippled their predecessors. They argue that this younger generation did not go through collective hypnosis under the influence of a charismatic “maximum leader.” And their exposure to social networks has prevented them from falling victim to the regime’s monopoly on information.

But pessimists would point out that these younger Cubans were born into a world they think is normal, including the state’s dominance of the state over the citizen, the one-party system, and the lack of legal avenues for disagreement and for introducing political change. According to this view, an indifference towards the nation’s problems, disingenuousness as a tool for social advancement, and the belief that “life is elsewhere” renders them incapable of being agents of profound change.

The role that this generation might play depends on the time and manner in which the much anticipated transition to democracy takes place in Cuba.

Ideally, the transformation would be occurring right now, directed without bloodshed from above. The passing of the last surviving members of the historic generation could lead to the unmasking of their successors, who are now promising governmental, partisan and institutional continuity. The long death vigil has kept the reformists in the closet and given a significant advantage to the status quo, making the advent of democracy a more costly proposition.

Confidence that those younger than fifty support such transformations today could provide a very tempting motivation to move ahead. But right now no one wants to make the first move. By 2030, however, they may have to account for the failed promises they used to justify maintaining the current system.

If one reads the pretentious National Economic and Social Development Plan for 2030 — its drafting began in April 2001 and was a ratified by parliament in June 2017 — it becomes clear that the vision of “a sustainable and prosperous socialism” is a utopian fantasy if not an outright scam.

All of those who can look back at the past and say “I wasn’t there” will have the chance to sit down and talk to both insiders and outsiders. Their hands will not have been tainted by firing squads or expropriations. The generation that inherited the problem could do that now, knowing they have the full backing of those born after 1970. Or they could wait until the millennials take the reins of power.

Those who prefer to wait run the risk that the younger generation will become impatient and raise the temperature of the national cauldron. Once they start expressing resistance — on the street, in social networks, in their local assemblies and even at the polls — to anything that slows the pace of change, social pressure will increase.

And we know how dictatorships respond to such threats.

It is not a matter of having to wait until 2030 but you can be sure that the generation of Cubans born after 1970 will witness or have the leading role in the most significant change this country will have ever seen.


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