Three generations under the Cuban Revolution

HAVANA, CUBA, Maria Lorente- In the Hernandez family, every generation has its own perspective on the Cuban revolution.
Luis Hernandez was one of Fidel Castro's comrades-in-arms as he fought to overthrow the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

His son Juan Luis waged a different kind of battle during the "special period" of near-starvation that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba's key ally during the Cold War.
Now his granddaughter Yeli is coming of age against the backdrop of a historic reconciliation with the United States.
Castro, who died on November 25 at age 90, was the 20th century's longest-ruling leader.
It is a measure of his enduring hold on Cuba that all the Hernandez family's lives have been profoundly marked by the man they call "father" or "grandfather."
- Luis -
Luis is 88 years old and blind. But his face still lights up when he recalls Castro's triumphant arrival in Havana on January 8, 1959.
He remembers "El Comandante" riding into the capital on a Jeep at the head of his rebel army, which had pulled off the seemingly impossible by ousting Batista.
"To me, that meant something big," he says. "It meant my life could change."
Luis is Afro-Cuban, a group that once faced rampant discrimination on the Caribbean island.
But with Castro's arrival, "social circles opened up to black people," he says.
Luis, who went to work at 10 years old as a cook, joined Castro's July 26 movement as a young man.
After Castro came to power, he was given a maintenance job at the powerful Council of State -- where posts were reserved for the new regime's most trusted people.
Castro was often there, as was his younger brother Raul, the current president.
Luis says he got an education thanks to Fidel.
He proudly ticks off the young revolution's accomplishments: literacy for all, land reform, ration books, nationalized companies.
But he also remembers the upheaval as the country became a central piece on the Cold War chess board.
"We used to see the American planes flying overhead," he recalls of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1962.
Through it all, however, he has held fast to his communist ideals.
- Juan Luis -
Luis's son Juan Luis has a different memory of the revolution.
"I lived through the era of the Russians and the period after the fall of the USSR," the 52-year-old father of two says.
Deprived of its key backer, the communist island descended into economic chaos.
"It was one loaf of bread per person, a little piece of fish. There was no milk and no one to help us," Juan Luis says.
"I was so angry, I felt like laying into the Americans" who maintained their embargo on Cuba throughout the crisis.
Opposition to the regime grew during those years, when record numbers of Cubans fled the island for Florida.
Juan Luis says he was never tempted to leave, then or now. But he wishes the government would improve the economy.
"We go to the doctor and there's no medicine. There's no aspirin," he says.
"We can't get by on our salaries anymore."
Like most islanders, Juan Luis is paid in Cuban pesos, whose value is plummeting. A parallel economy for tourists and the Cuban elite operates in "convertible pesos," which are equal to the US dollar.
Eliminating that double currency remains one of Raul Castro's unfulfilled promises for reforming the stagnant economy.
Between his salary and his father's pension, Juan Luis has 700 Cuban pesos a month -- about $29 -- to support the entire family of five in the run-down but tidy home they share in a working-class Havana neighborhood.
"Workers' salaries are out of sync with the prices of products," he says.
The ration books his father remembers so fondly barely feed the family for one week a month today, he adds.
It has all given him a complex attitude toward the revolution.
"More than a revolutionary or a communist," he says, "I am a 'Fidelista'"
- Yeli -
At 16 years old, Yeli has already seen something her father and grandfather never imagined possible: in March, an American president traveled to Cuba for the first time in 88 years.
Barack Obama's visit boosted Cubans' hopes that real change could emerge from their country's rapprochement with its old Cold War enemy.
Many Cubans have worried about the island's future since Fidel's death.
But Yeli has other things on her mind.
She wants Disney to build a theme park in Cuba, and "more places to dance."
She is part of a generation perched between the revolution and whatever comes next.
On the family home's purple-painted walls hangs a giant picture of Yeli as a baby. Her parents like to show off the photo album of her 15th birthday party, a lavish coming-of-age ritual across Latin America.
In the elaborately staged pictures, Yeli looks anything but revolutionary. She poses as a businesswoman, a rapper and wearing a ball gown.
The family spent $350 -- more than a year's income -- on the photo shoot.
Yeli's generation is much more connected to the outside world than their parents' and grandparents', even if internet access remains limited.
To the young, Fidel was an old man who appeared on TV once in a while, no longer dressed in his trademark army uniform but the more relaxed-looking tracksuits he preferred in retirement.
Still, Yeli was deeply saddened by his death.
"Fidel is a grandfather," she says. "He was my grandfather."

Wednesday, December 28th 2016
Maria Lorente

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