The Universidad Central “Marta Abeu” de las Villas in Cuba is known by the nickname “Che University.” It is a bastion of true believers, dedicated to the revitalization of The Revolution. Believers they may be, but they are a new generation. Across Latin America and in fact the world, communism is hip again. And Cuba’s one-time revolutionary sweetheart, Che Guevara, is the face of Communism’s global brand.
What does that mean, to be a Communist in a world of no Soviet Union? With China as capitalist as France? What does it mean to be a young Communist with virtually nothing in common with the preceding generations? To be undaunted by the obstacles with which life tends to temper “purity” of ideals? To be in awe of the generations that came before you and yet embarrassed or contemptuous of their failures?
These days, when you read about Latin American Communism and its related political philosophies, you usually read about “the two leftisms.” In recent articles in the Miami Herald and Foreign Affairs, of these two Mexico’s Castañeda wrote, “One is modern, open-minded, reformist and internationalist, and it springs, paradoxically, from the hard-core left of the past. The other, born of the great tradition of Latin American populism, is nationalist, strident and close-minded. The first is well aware of its past mistakes (as well as those of its erstwhile role models in Cuba and the Soviet Union) and has changed accordingly. The second, unfortunately, has not.”
Firstly, this sounds a bit like gibberish to me. Secondly, the Latin American left does not consist solely of these two groups. There is a third group, the new generation I spoke of that everyone will ignore to their peril. They are, like kids around the world, global, plugged in, cross-culturally comfortable and with all the strengths and weaknesses of a data-driven, consumer-savvy, media generation. Cuba’s “Generation Y” of Communism (“Generation C” as it were) is supported by anti-American, anti-imperialist sympathizers from Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bolivia, Ecuador and Europe. Castro’s need for tourist dollars, and Communism’s hip factor, create a constant stream of information flowing both ways. Cuban kids may not have the internet, but their Brazilian and Swedish visitors do.
My personal experience of the global nature of Communism’s Generation Y happened when I went to interview Salvador Sanchez Cerén, the then-General Coordinator of El Salvador’s FMLN, at the party’s San Salvador headquarters during the last election there. In the courtyard out back I sat under the bougainvillea with Mexicans, Brazilians, Ecuadorians, Swedes and Americans, overwhelmingly young, all starry-eyed. They all believed, as their Cuban compadres do, in the Revolution.
Whereas the Cuban students at Che U cannot be considered wired, since, after all Cuba is one of the only countries in the world to have absolutely no public access to the Internet, their visitors and fans from other countries certainly are. This next generation of leftists, in Latin America especially, communicate with the same wide-open electronic abandon as any other kids. What effect this more globally-connected aspect of their development will have remains to be seen.
As to why you should care about this group of Cuban kids and their foreign friends, that’s a softball.
Latin America is left again. It may be the sons (Lula, Chavez, Morales) of the fathers (Ortega) and grandfathers (Castro) who have momentum now. But the direction, texture and success of this new wave of revolutions will depend on the kids. There is a great feeling of anticipation riding on what is considered by many to be the imminent death of Castro. But whether the island opens up (unlikely) or continues Communist, struggling under the less charismatic guidance of Raul, sooner or later these kids are going to see their opportunity come. My belief is that it is more likely to be sooner than later.
I had the opportunity to hang out during that same trip Central American trip with a friend of mine from high school. He was from one of the wealthy “oligarchic” families of El Salvador. He took great pains to tell me how the past was past and he even hired a former rebel. But at dinner his mother explained how their driver/bodyguard was part of a death squad in the war. He was right to kill them, she explained. The look on her face gave me the creeps for a month. I realized then that nothing had changed from the 80s. The same carnivorous princelings were in charge of the country and the same rage that turned kids into killers was lurking around the outskirts of the shanty towns.
Why should we care? Because it’s not over.