Cuba's young see bleak future, many want to leave
By Jeff Franks
HAVANA (Reuters) - On weekend nights in Havana, young hipsters fill the sidewalks at a busy intersection near the seafront and spill into the park below, passing rum bottles between them, smoking cigarettes and playing guitars.
Black t-shirts, low-slung jeans, oddball haircuts and tattoos are in vogue at this spot, a favorite hangout for Cuban youth with a counter-cultural, slightly rebellious feel to it.
On one corner, police question a few overzealous partiers, but generally leave people alone compared to years past, when, according to one regular, Ernesto Ramis, they made everyone move along.
Ramis, 25, says you can get drugs here - uppers, downers, maybe some ecstasy - but there is no overt evidence of illegality this night, only a sense that being young in Cuba today is different, that conformity to the old ways has faded.
"The main difference," says Ramis, pointing toward the Straits of Florida, barely visible in the darkness, "is that everyone wants to leave."
His use of the word "everyone," is an overstatement, but he has touched on one of the Cuban government's biggest problems - youthful discontent with a system many view as lacking opportunity for a better life.
It is not a problem unique to the Caribbean island, which like many underdeveloped countries struggles to hold on to its best and brightest, but unlike most others faces the added difficulty of doing so at the doorstep of a hostile superpower with an open door immigration policy for Cubans.
The government, well aware of its youth problem, is gradually changing the Soviet-style, state-run economic model put in place after the 1959 revolution, partly to address the issue. Continued...