Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cuban youth tell U.S. officials their hopes and fears

February 2008 cable about Cuban youth. Michael Parmly writes that young people want the Cuban government to stop trying to control every aspect of their lives.

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08HAVANA168 2008-02-20 19:07 2010-12-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL US Interests Section Havana

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DE RUEHUB #0168/01 0511954
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2892
INFO RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS IMMEDIATE
RUCOGCA/NAVSTA GUANTANAMO BAY CU IMMEDIATE
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL IMMEDIATE
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RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2893

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HAVANA 000168

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CCA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/18/2017
TAGS: CU PGOV PHUM PINR PREL
SUBJECT: CUBAN YOUTH CAUGHT BETWEEN HOPE AND FEAR

Classified By: COM: M.E. Parmly : For reasons 1.4 b/d

¶1. (C) Summary: In two meetings Cuban youth groups said
young people see that they have a historic opportunity to
create a change in their country. However, they report
widespread fear among the population. They state that Cuban
youth want change but are unclear as to what exactly these
changes would entail. After the government has subjected them
to intense indoctrination for years, the young people have
only a vaguest ideas about how the various forms of
democratic government work and how market economies function.
The idea that unites most of Cuban youth is the desire to be
able to make choices. Youth report massive and increasing
police harassment of Cuban youth, whether political involved
or not. There are significant differences in opinion on how
strong the opposition is based on whether the young people
are affiliated or not with specific opposition groups. Youth
groups report that their biggest problem is the ability to
distribute information. Many of the young people do not
support the US embargo, but this policy does have some strong
defenders. End Summary.

¶2. (C) Pol off held a meeting of young people at his house
on XXXXXXXXXXXX attended by 29 people, mostly between
the ages of 17 and 25 with a few older members of some
organizations. Some belonged to civil society organizations but
several were not members of any specific organization. On
XXXXXXXXXXXX hosted at his residence a group of 19 members
Of XXXXXXXXXXXX This group included several active university
students. It is especially notable that XXXXXXXXXXXX has more
success engaging in dialogue university students from the eastern
part of the country than from any other region. XXXXXXXXXXXX
has recently gathered more than 5000 signatures to demand autonomy
in the higher educational system and the reopening of the Villanueva
Catholic University. The students stated that their interest was not
specifically for the restoration of Catholic education but rather for a
return to Cuba's rich cultural tradition of private universities.

¶3. (C) Both groups discussed a recent incident where a
student at a College of Computer Science sharply questioned
Ricardo De Alarcon, President of the Cuban National Assembly.
Some members of XXXXXXXXXXXX expressed that this
episode indicates that students were more willing to speak up.
On the other hand, everyone of the other group of 29 young
people thought that this was a staged incident put on by some
members of the government to embarrass Alarcon. No one in
this group could answer why the government would want to
publicize the very issues that the group had already listed as
the things that most anger ordinary Cubans, namely, the lack
of basic goods and the preferential treatment given to foreigners.
However, this consideration did not dissuade any of the young
people from their conspiracy theories.

¶4. (C) Another split between the groups was that the
XXXXXXXXXXXX students represent that practically no
one in Cuba supports the government, while the unaffiliated
youth maintain that many people support the regime, beginning
with their own parents. This group stated that the government
operates a very effective propaganda apparatus and many people
simply have no other source of information. One person
described the process of disenchantment with the government
as "the slow lifting of a veil." All of the youth believed that they
had a historic opportunity to institute change because of the
passing of authority from Fidel Castro and due to what they
perceive as confusion within the government. However, the
group at the meeting of XXXXXXXXXXXX told Pol off that
Cuban young people in general don't have a clear picture of
what a change would mean. They said that they have only the
most rudimentary idea of how various democratic governments
are structured and how market economies work. They said that
even above all Cuban youth want choice and the ability to end
government control over every aspect of their lives.

¶5. (C) Many of those present expressed that young people are
the number one target of increased repression by police and
state security officials. They said that youth are harassed
for a whole host of reasons, most of them unrelated to
politics. They said young adults are constantly stopped in
the streets and when their ID card shows an address other
than Havana, they are forcibly shipped back to their
hometowns with a warning never to return. Several black
youths stated that there are many neighborhoods where the
police practice racial profiling and threaten with arrest any
Afro Cuban youth hanging out in the street. XXXXXXXXXXXX
aid that they recorded during 2007 in Havana 3000 incidents of
young homosexuals fined or detained for simply congregating in
the street and 12 cases of young homosexuals sentenced to prison
for two to four years under the law of "dangerousness" simply
because they returned to a park that they were told to stay away
from. Nearly everyone in the room had a story about being
threatened recently by the police. The group said police
harassment occurs at all times of the day in every part of
the country.

¶6. (C) The XXXXXXXXXXXX did feel that despite a lot of
fear there is potential for a large scale student movement in
favor of autonomy for the universities and academic freedom.
The other group stated because of fear of expulsion, and the
present of a large number of willing government
collaborators, the universities were the last place to expect
the emergence of a large scale, activist youth movement.
XXXXXXXXXXXX, expelled from university for refusing
to participate in a demonstration against a dissident, said that
despite many problems with poor physical facilities and bad
food, conditions at the universities have improved recently
due to large scale Venezuelan investment. Many of the
unaffiliated youths stated that the potential for explosion
is in the high schools, where senior students not placed on a
university track see themselves with little to lose. Citing
an incident on February 1 where a 17 year old novice teacher
threw a chair and killed a 12 year old, members of this group
told numerous stories of the lack of teachers and the
assignment of young, barely trained teachers, with neither
the knowledge nor temperament for dealing with students, who
are close enough in age to be their peers. They said that
there are numerous instances of physical abuse of students,
pedophilia, sexual harassment, and solicitations of bribes to
change grades. In many instances teachers play an
educational program on television for the classes and do not
attempt otherwise to instruct the students. XXXXXXXXXXXX
l stated that she goes to many schools where the walls are
crumbling, the building is infested with insects, the furniture is
broken and there is no food to feed the children. Many of the
youths stated that parents are very frustrated with the lack of
response from the school authorities. As part of the "lifting
of the veil" phenomenon, many parents are now questioning the
value of much of the education system such as mandatory
participation in "patriotic" activities and military training
over the weekends and forced labor picking coffee or fruit
in the countryside for a month and a half during the school year.

¶7. (C) Youth groups agree that their biggest problem is
getting out information which is now largely word-of-mouth.
There were several complaints that the outlets devoted to
Cuba news are nearly completely focused on the traditional
dissident movements. Many participants in the meetings
expressed admiration for several long standing opposition
leaders but clearly said that neither they nor the Cuban
exile community represent the thoughts of Cuban youth.

¶8. (C) On 13 February there was a vigorous discussion of
the US embargo. The vast majority thought that the embargo
was a bad idea. Many had stories about how meetings with
actual Americans had positively changed their opinions about
the US. Several thought that the ending of the embargo would
mean that the GOC could not continue to blame all of the
problems with the economy on the embargo. Five others
vigorously defended the embargo stating that the lifting of
it would be a huge propaganda victory that the GOC did not
earn by any action.

¶9. (C) Comment: Cuban youth is probably the most difficult
group for XXXXXXXXXXXX to contact because of a high
level of fear. It is plain from the sheer number of repressive
incidents reported that this is the group that the government
fears the most and subjects to the most harassment
.There are differences in the opinions of youth about the
possibility of change based on geography and whether the
youths are affiliated with opposition groups. By and large
young people do not know what type of change they are looking
for. Their common desire is for choice, and a release from the
control of the government over every aspect of their lives.
XXXXXXXXXXXX continues to work to expand contact
with youths at every level of Cuban society.
PARMLY

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