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Young Cubans turned off by Castro succession

HAVANA (Reuters) - Young Cubans frustrated by a regimented and austere life under socialism see little hope of change under the team of old guard revolutionaries who have taken over following Fidel Castro’s retirement as president.

Seventy percent of Cuba’s 11 million people were born after Castro’s 1959 revolution. The younger ones dream of traveling abroad and want access to the Internet, iPods, trendy clothes, music and films.

Many were disappointed when Raul Castro, a 76-year-old army general, succeeded his ailing brother on Sunday as Cuba’s first new leader in almost half a century, and other elderly communists were appointed top key posts.

“This is a dynastic succession. Everyone is so disappointed,” said Virginia, a teacher who quit her state job earning $19 a month to work as a nanny.

Raul Castro’s appointment as president was no surprise, but the new leadership team is more rigid -- and older -- than many young Cubans expected, or would like to see.

Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, a 77-year-old hardliner who fought with the Castro brothers in their guerrilla army in the 1950s, was named as Cuba’s new deputy leader.

Carlos Lage, 56, who pushed market reforms in the 1990s and is respected by foreign businessmen, had been expected to take the job but he was passed over.

Young people are tired of poor salaries and food shortages, and feel constrained by a system that offers few opportunities to own nice homes, cars and other consumer goods. Some saw Lage as a leader who might help modernize Cuba.

“It should have been Carlos Lage. He has many good ideas. We should be rejuvenating,” 20-year-old sociology student Maidolys said on Monday as she hitched a ride to classes.

Fidel Castro’s government built up the mythology of his 1959 revolution, celebrating the anniversary of important battles and exhorting people to be like Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the late Argentine guerrilla who fought with the Castros.

But this has diminishing appeal to a younger generation that wants less Che and more Shakira.

“To them, change means not just better living conditions but the opportunity of freedom, the opportunity to live like the rest of the world does,” said Andy Gomez of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies in Miami.


Even among university students who believe in the socialist system, especially the advances in education and health care, its failings have fueled impatience.

At a town-hall meeting last month, computing students peppered the head of the country’s legislature, Ricardo Alarcon, with uncomfortable questions, including why their access to Google and Yahoo sites was blocked.

One asked why a Cuban must work two or three days to buy a toothbrush.

Raul Castro has fomented debate on the state’s shortcomings and what needs fixing since taking over as acting president when his brother fell ill in July 2006. He has raised hopes of modest economic reforms but will move slowly and also vows to continue communist rule.

In his first speech as president on Sunday, he said he would move to lift some restriction soon but gave no details.

"Raul Castro's speech ... has not dispelled my doubts," said Yoani Sanchez, one of the few independent bloggers in Cuba (, adding that Raul Castro has not delivered yet on other promises of change.

The 32-year-old philology graduate says her generation saw their parents grow disillusioned with communism when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, causing severe shortages of food and basic goods in Cuba.

“We’re a mixture of pragmatism, disbelief and cynicism that is not a good combination to believe in any ideology,” Sanchez told Reuters on Monday.

In her new blog, she also said she would willingly forfeit the government’s monthly rations of subsidized beans, rice and sugar “for an extended dose of freedom of expression”.

Pichi, a former state driver turned odd-job man, said he did not even listen to Raul Castro’s speech, and instead spent Sunday afternoon tinkering with a fifth-hand Russian-made Lada car. “Everyone is on stand-by here. But I don’t see change in the next 10 years. It’s not easy.”

(Editing by Kieran Murray)

For special coverage from Reuters on Castro's retirement, see: here