In communist Cuba, a whiff of rugged individualism
(LPP Archive - "The Best Way To Feel The Touch!" ) -Friday, January 2nd 2009, 11:04 AM
"The people do what they can. They don't just sit around and wait for the government to give them everything," the 59-year-old said, standing on his dusty front porch.
"If they waited for the government to keep all its promises, they would have to wait a long time. Fifty more years, maybe."
It sounds like the kind of rugged individualism that would resonate with Americans, but this is the mountainous Sierra Maestra of eastern Cuba, the cradle of the revolution that brought Castro to power 50 years ago New Year's Day, ushering in a communist era of promised egalitarianism under big, all-controlling government.
Here, more than 500 miles from Havana, people tend to speak their minds more freely, even grumble openly about their privations.
They also see a growing generation gap — between elder Cubans who wholeheartedly support the communist system, and youngsters yearning for change, at a time when the ailing, 82-year-old Castro has been replaced by his younger brother, Raul, and Barack Obama is about to move into the White House.
The Sierra Maestra is where Castro and his guerrillas prevailed over 10,000 soldiers sent in by dictator Fulgencio Batista in May 1958 and eventually forced Batista to flee Cuba on Jan. 1 of the following year.
Gonzalez, from the village of Santo Domingo, was 9 when the rebellion Cubans universally call "la revolucion" triumphed.
Now, as the revolution turns 50, how does he feel about it? "The people here feel good, but not everyone has the same amount of pride," he said.
That's because the promises of a shining future have not come as fast as they may have hoped. Electricity, running water and phone service are relatively new here. Some families still live in dirt-floored shacks and wash their clothes in rivers.
Carts pulled by oxen, donkeys or horses outnumber cars and trucks.
Gonzalez is charged with the upkeep of his grandfather's homestead, now a historical site. The biggest problem, he says, is a lack of public transport. The area had a single ambulance but a few years ago "it broke and some people died because of that."
Soviet engineers only brought electricity to the area in 1986.
South of Santo Domingo lies Comandancia de la Plata, the hideout where Fidel Castro directed the final rebel push. He lived in a wooden hut with a roof of palm leaves.
Outside, still encrusted with bullet fragments, is the tree on which he practiced his marksmanship.
Luis Angel Segura, 55, is a guide who leads tourists up a muddy mule trail to the hut.