These kids were attending a free concert near the Malecon in Havana.
If you're headed to Cuba and want to find disenchanted youth, shortages of medicine and people stealing from the workplace, that's what you'll find.
But if you want to find happy, smiling children on the street, you'll find that, too, along with talented musicians and artists, educated teen-agers, gifted athletes and more.
What you find in Cuba depends, at least in part, on what you're looking for.
During my last trip to the island, I wanted to understand more about civil society in Cuba, so I interviewed many of the country's top dissidents.
I also talked to Cuban government supporters, analysts and others.
A few quick impressions:
- Dissident groups agree on the need for change, but differ over how to make it happen.
- Government security agents have dissident groups under constant surveillance. No surprise here. The agents tail Yoani Sanchez and her husband Reinaldo Escobar when they go into the streets. Agents take photos of the blogger's meetings with visitors.
- Agents also carefully monitor Ladies in White marches, videotaping and photographing both the demonstrators and anyone else who joins in to observe or march.
- Most ordinary Cubans worry about economic survival, not politics or freedom of expression or human rights. The clamor for an expansion of basic freedoms that you read about on blogs and in cyberspace has not translated to any kind of big, visible civic movement on the streets.
- Many Cubans routinely complain about the government, but aren't optimistic that they have any power to bring about change.
- People are more open and outspoken than they were five years ago, but in many circles there is still great pressure to tow the political line.
- The cost of living is extraordinarily high, considering the low wages. Many Cubans have trouble getting around Havana and other cities. I spoke to some Cubans who had not ever traveled outside the towns of their birth because of transportation and economic difficulties. I find that remarkable and sad.
- Some Cubans are perfectly happy, despite the country's ragged economy. But their stories rarely make the news in the increasingly polarized debate over Cuba.