Taylor Emilio Torres Escalona
HAVANA TIMES — I had set very clear goals for myself by the time I reached junior high school: after completing the 9th grade, I would enroll at the Exact Sciences Vocational Institute (IPVCE), one of the most prestigious schools in the country at the time, and I would secure membership with the Young Communists League (UJC).
Everything I did was aimed at achieving what I’d set out to do.
When I got to that point, I managed to obtain those two things, the first through study and the other through voluntary work and verifications by the UJC. I managed to get into the UJC, but not without first having been questioned by a panel of teachers about my homosexuality (even though they weren’t certain of this) and, of course, receiving recommendations that I obtain counselling from the school psychologist (who I could tell, even at my young age, suffered the same “condition” he was supposed to treat me for).
Around four years ago, after several years of entirely fruitless activism, after being secretary for the UJC Base Committee, chair of the IPVCE Youth Jose Marti Movement and occupying other positions within the organization, I ceased being a part of the Cuban youth “vanguard.”
I haven’t thought much about this decision since making it, but, after reading the interview with Cuban Vice-President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura (#2 in the Communist Party) during the 10th UJC Congress, published by Juventud Rebelde, the newspaper of “Cuba’s youth,” several questions came to mind. The most important one is, if I don’t want to be a part of the UJC, what organization could I join as a young person?
That there is only one youth organization of a political nature in the entire country (only one recognized by the State, that is), is problematic, for those who do not identify with or feel represented by this organization have no other choice. What’s left, then, of the creativity and autonomy that may not be afforded by communism?
This organization, which has clearly lost its purpose and has become (as is often said at base-level meetings) a monotonous entity that, on occasion, is only there to occupy a pre-determined space, must be renewed and in some way begin to address the interests of those who make up its rank and file. It must become one alternative among many for young people in Cuba, not the only one out there.
If we analyze the issues that have been addressed at each of the congresses held by the organization, we can arrive at the conclusion that, with the exception of a handful of variations, these have been the same ones since the beginning, and one gets the impression that the organization isn’t aware that more than five decades have elapsed since its founding. This is why many are of the opinion that, ironically, the organization of “Cuba’s youth” suffers the pangs of premature old age.
Going out to the street and conversing with any young person, at random, can give us a sense of how accurate this impression is and reveals that most young people in Cuba are not at all interested in belonging to the Young Communists League.
Many think that a solution to this state of affairs could be the creation of something similar to a Ministry of Youth or a series of equivalent institutions, of the kind that exist in several countries around the world and in places culturally closer to the Cuba, such as Latin America. A space where the broad spectrum of interests and realities that characterize today’s young people on the island could co-exist with everyone treated equally, without exception.
It would be a place where the farmer, the business person, the journalist, a member of the LGBTIQ community and others could gather without having to be a communist and be well received, a space where people could freely express their concerns.
There is also a large group of young people who wish to see a Law of Associations that would authorize the creation of organizations that can represent different interests, as well as the existence, for instance, of a ministry that will act as mediator and facilitate exchanges between these organizations and the government.
It would therefore be advisable to conduct an informed study on this and give people a voice for once and for all. It is time for some people to stop reserving the right to speak for everyone, when “everyone” encompasses an immense and rich diversity. When Cubans feel they have a voice and their opinions matter, then we will feel we belong and become more responsible with regards to the decisions that are taken but the government.
It would be interesting to see how young people in Cuba would make use of their right to express themselves and work to improve society, with the support of a ministry that answers to their interests and needs and does not require them to espouse this or that ideology.