In My Opinion

Andres Oppenheimer: Top Cuban rapper skeptical of reforms

Listening to Cuban rapper “Silvito el libre” (Silvito the free one), son of Cuba’s internationally known pro-government singer Silvio Rodriguez, you can’t but conclude that the grandchildren of Cuba’s revolution are skeptical about the island dictatorship’s latest economic reforms.

I sat down with “Silvito el libre’’ last week, during a visit by the young rapper to Miami, and asked him about one of his group’s songs, entitled “Háblame” (Tell me). The song says, among other things, that Cuba is a country beset by sadness, where state security agents harass citizens, and where communism serves the interests of very few.

“Definitely, the majority of the Cuban people are living in sadness,” Silvito told me. “Today’s Cubans have changed a lot from yesterday’s. The average Cuban has lost his joy, and many have lost their hope, because of the ongoing situation in Cuba.”

I was expecting him to add that the U.S. trade embargo on the island is part of Cuba’s dire situation — the Cuban regime’s explanation for everything that’s wrong on the island — but Silvito didn’t even mention it. He said that Cubans are a sad people “because they feel they are being trampled on every day by the police, by the government, by the laws, by everything.”

Asked about his father’s reaction to his political views, Silvito said, “My father is a very free and very open person. He has always supported me... He thinks his way, and I think my way.”

Silvito said that his mother and many of his friends have been harassed by the secret police. Not being part of the government -sanctioned artists’ union, he cannot perform in mainstream concerts, and can only work in alternative concerts “once every six months, or so,” he said.

Is he an exception to the rule, or do most Cuban youth think that the Cuban revolution has been a huge failure? I asked.

“No, absolutely. The whole Cuban youth, or almost the whole Cuban youth, thinks like I do,” he responded. “The whole Cuban youth, or almost all of it, is a victim of police abuse, is a victim of the separation of families between Cuba and Florida, and knows what it is like to go to work without having had breakfast, and to a job where they don’t pay you almost anything.”

I mentioned that, after 54 years of one-party rule and stringent press censorship, one would think that most Cubans — especially those born after the 1959 revolution — would have been brainwashed by now. Why didn’t government indoctrination work? I asked.

“I think it worked that way for a while, because there are still people who believe in the revolution. But lately, people have been waking up, because too much has happened. It has been too much.”

When I asked him about the latest economic reforms by Cuba’s military leader Gen. Raúl Castro, who has relaxed travel restrictions and has authorized some 435,000 people to work in the private sector, Silvito shrugged, clearly unimpressed by the measures. Cuba has allowed some pro-private sector reforms in the past during hard times, only to reverse them later.

“There have been some changes, some of them positive, but I personally don’t see any (major) change,” Silvito said. He paused, and added, “I see things getting worse every day. In fact, I don’t see any positive shift.”

Silvito’s skepticism, which according to Cuban visitors to Miami is shared by the vast majority of Cuban youths on the island, is in sharp contrast to the optimism of recent U.S. academic studies, some of which see positive changes taking place on the island.

A new Brookings Institution report entitled “Soft landing in Cuba?” by former Clinton administration Latin America adviser Richard Feinberg, says that “a dynamic independent private sector” of as many as two million people is emerging, and ads that “tectonic shifts” are already taking place on the island.

My opinion: It’s hard to tell from a distance whether Cuba’s economic reforms are cosmetic or the beginning of a larger economic opening. Most likely, they have been conceived as a damage control policy by the Cuban dictatorship to appease an increasingly restless population.

The grandchildren of the Cuban revolution are sick and tired of being lied to, repressed and censored, and the longer the ruling Castro family takes to open the island to the world, the more anti-communist Cuba’s youth is likely to become. As Silvito told me, “it has been too much.”

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