This post marks the fourth entry for the current Roots of Hope blog prompt: "My Wish for Cuban Youth."
A Future at Home
By Tomas Bilbao
In a recent documentary titled “Grandchildren of the Revolution,” which was filmed recently in Cuba, many young Cubans express their lack of faith in a future within the island. Of all the challenges Cuba faces, and there are certainly many of them, the loss of its most valuable resource, its youth, may be the most damaging. One cannot talk about the need for political freedom, economic progress or reconciliation without taking into account the role of Cuba’s youth. One need only look at the roll played by youth in processes of transformation around the globe, most recently in Egypt, to appreciate the vital role that it plays in determining the future of those nations.
It is no secret that a significant portion of Cuba’s youth, seeing no future for themselves or their children on the island, have taken to risking their lives in rafts in hopes of a better future elsewhere. This drain on Cuba’s talent, on its thirst for new and innovative thinking is leaving a generational void that has important political as well as economic consequences. For a country facing a deep economic crisis plagued by low productivity, the loss of its youngest workers represents a major challenge. In addition, as the country’s population ages due to low birth rates and the high emigration of youth, its need to finance social security commitments will no doubt represent a further drag on its economic performance. Additionally, there are important political consequences to the outflow of youth.
With thirty percent of Cuba’s population born since the special period that followed the end of Soviet subsidies, the country’s youth is perhaps better equipped than anyone to understand the failures of the system to provide opportunity as well as the consequences of the excessive restrictions on personal freedoms. While Cuban leaders boast about achievements in the country’s educational levels, thousands of graduates from Cuban universities every year find themselves unable to pursue their professional goals given the lack of jobs, low salaries and lack of access to information and the outside world. This disaffection is a necessary ingredient to transforming Cuba into a country that offers opportunity for all its citizens.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family...” This inherent and universal right is rooted in the understanding that the future of a country is intrinsically linked to the opportunities it offers its youth. Cuba is no different. Its future will depend on its ability to offer the “grandchildren of the Cuban revolution” a future where they can realize their dreams, provide for their families and help shape the direction of their country. My wish for Cuba’s youth in 2011 is a future at home, inside a Cuba that respects the individual talents of its youth, provides conditions for their growth and success, and the ability to shape their future of their children.
Tomas Bilbao is Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group in Washington.