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The Daily Tar Heel

Cuba is evolving with new generation

This is not your father’s Cuba. Walk down the malecón, where the Caribbean meets the streets, and you’ll feel a strange air in the city of Havana. Cuba is changing.

I find myself here while Cuba finds itself at a generational crossroads. The younger generation is becoming self-aware, and the older generation, which started the now half-century-old revolution, is fading away.

Gone are the days of national unity and the myriad catchphrases that circulate through the propaganda. Sure, you’ll still find the words “Hasta la victoria, siempre,” (“Until victory, always”) adorning many a poster and billboard, but they don’t carry the same meaning they once did.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba experienced the worst economic crisis in the nation’s history. The lights went out, food was scarce, and life became tougher than ever. The revolutionary zeal many Cubans felt in decades past hasn’t been enough to sustain them through two decades of extreme sacrifice. Because of this, Cuban nationalism has eroded significantly.

And that brings us to the man behind the revolution itself: the one, the only, Fidel Castro.

Reality is finally beginning to sink in that Fidel is not going to be around much longer, and Raúl Castro is no spring chicken himself. That’s created a very somber feeling among the Cuban people. Whether people praise his triumphs or criticize his shortcomings, Fidel is still loved, and it saddens people to see him in what may be his last days.

He brought a lot of hope and new beginnings to a once oppressed people. You may not admire him, but you ought to at least respect him.

But what saddens people even more is how unknown their future is. The possibility of the revolution dying along with the Brothers Castro has never been more valid.

So, that’s where we find ourselves today. Cuba is a lot more open than it once was. Tourists and students from around the world stroll the streets and snap pictures everywhere. The very fact that UNC has a program in Havana simply shows that outside visitors are beginning to pour into this island nation.

As Americans, we bring our culture along with us. While we students may not wholly subscribe to the ideas of capitalism and materialism as the American stereotype suggests, we are still seen as such.

There exists a very real threat that the influx of students — such as those from UNC — might do more to change Cuban society as a whole than to change the Cuban perception of the United States.

As tourists and students from countries capitalistic and democratic arrive in greater numbers, what remains to be seen is whether the revolution can survive.

Whether the survival of the revolution is a good thing depends greatly upon whom you ask. That’s obviously not the sentiment of the majority of Cuban Americans.

But one thing remains certain: In the 51-year history of the Cuban Revolution counter-revolutions, an angry diaspora population, embargos, blockades and diplomatic isolation have threatened the revolution ever since Fidel marched triumphantly into Havana.

Yet somehow, the revolution has survived, and this remains a fact in the minds of every generation.


Zack Tyman is a junior peace, war and defense major from Northfield, NJ spending the semester in Cuba.
E-mail him at

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