At 55, Cuba's Young Communist Union Loses Relevance But Does Not Want To
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, 4 April 2017 — There was a time when its red
card was a source of pride and most teenagers dreamed of entering its
ranks. But those days have been left behind for the Young Communists
Union (UJC), an organization that turns 55 this Tuesday, with an aging
image and a noticeable decrease in its membership.
Founded in 1962, the UJC was a copycat of the Soviet Komsomols, creating
a youth front that served as a quarry for the Communist Party of Cuba
(PCC). In the midst of the enthusiasm of those years there were massive
"processes of growth," with the signing up of numerous members, but
today many evade or reject this opportunity.
"I never questioned whether or not to enter the UJC, it was what all my
classmates did and I joined," recalls Gladys Marrero, a retired nurse
who worked with the organization for more than a decade. "In those years
everything was different, people believed much more what was said in the
meetings," she says.
Marrero was sanctioned in her local committee in 1980 for not
participating in acts of repudiation* against those who emigrated during
the Mariel Boatlift. "In the polyclinic where I worked a lab technician
asked to step down to be able to leave [the country] and the UJC
prepared a rally to 'say goodbye' to her," she remembers. She didn't
want to participate in "those antics" and turned in her card.
Of the nearly three million young people living in Cuba, according to
the most recent Population and Housing Census of 2012, only 300,752 are
affiliated with the UJC, which operates through 33,000 base committees
across the island. The figure is much lower than almost 600,000 members
who were on the rolls in 2007, when the country was in the midst of the
effervescence of the Battle of Ideas.
Yosvani, 25 years old and resident of Aguada de Pasajeros in Cienfuegos,
was one of the young people who enrolled in the UJC during those
years. "Several municipal leaders came to our high school and said they
were going to undertake massive growth throughout the country, with more
than 10,000 new militants," he tells this newspaper.
Over time, the young man lost interest because "there were too many
meetings" and "they summoned us for anything." One day he pretended that
he had a serious health problem and asked for his discharge. In his
local committee alone "more than half of the militants left," he
says. Some alleged family complications, but Yosvani believes they
actually did it out of "lack of interest."
In Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, several young people waiting to enter the
United States also once had the organization's red membership card in
their pockets. Richard, a fictitious name to avoid retaliation, has been
stranded for two months at the US border after the cancellation of the
wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed Cubans who stepped foot on
American soil to stay. Although he calls himself a "revolutionary" he
does not plan to mention his affiliation to US immigration officials
should they "reverse Obama's decision and let the Cubans in."
The migrant, who spoke with 14ymedio through videoconferencing, served
as general secretary of his local committee and believes that "the UJC
helped many young people not to fall into delinquency and to direct
their lives." However, he believes that the organization "fell into a
rut" although "it still has a large presence in schools and workplaces,
so it could take advantage of that structure."
In the middle of last year a young Cuban migrant was declared
"inadmissible" by the US authorities because she confessed to having
belonged to the Young Communists Union between 2010 and 2013.
The absence of leadership has also hampered the activity of
these komsomols. Of the UJC's dozen first secretaries since its
creation, more than half ended up being ousted while they leading the
UJC or in later positions. The most famous cases were Luis Orlando
Domínguez (1972-1982), Carlos Lage (1982-1986) and Roberto Robaina
(1986-1993). The fear of ending up like them slows down many who would
like to present themselves as more active and creative. Charisma is paid
for dearly in these types of responsibilities.
"People do not want to take positions inside the UJC to avoid getting
into trouble," says Yosvani. "That's a tremendous burning," he
quips. The young man criticizes the "lack of power of the militants who
go along with many things in the meetings but they do not have ability
to influence decision making."
In 2015 and during meetings of the organization before the 10th
Congress, the militants expressed their concern about the UJC's
stagnation. "It needs to be a living organism that has diversity, is
truly transformed and represents young people," said Han García, a
student at the Victoria de Giron [Bay of Pigs Victory] Faculty of
In an attempt to revitalize the organization and during an extraordinary
meeting of the UJC in the middle of last year, the psychologist Susely
Morfa González was named first secretary of the organization, replacing
Yuniasky Crespo Baquero. Shortly afterwards, her meteoric rise continued
when she was chosen as a deputy to the National Assembly of People's
Power and made a member of the Council of State.
The young woman had turned in a combative performance at the Summit of
the Americas in Panama in April 2015, starring in several acts of
repudiation in which she labeled activists and exiles who participated
in a parallel event with civil society as "lackeys, mercenaries,
self-financed, underpaid by imperialism."
On Tuesday, in an interview with the official press, Morfa stated as a
purpose of the UJC "to add to it so that it is an organization for
everyone, so that each young person feels ever closer to it." The
secretary general estimates that among young Cubans "the vast majority
is revolutionary," although she acknowledged that "some people are
questioning whether the new generations are aware of their social role."
But the functional paralysis and the diminution of its ranks are not the
only concerns for the leaders of the UJC. The growth of the private
sector has widened the phenomenon of young people who are outside the
organization's control and who work in a system governed by the laws of
supply and demand.
Of the more than half a million self-employed workers on the island,
159,563 are young. The UJC has set out to capture young entrepreneurs at
any cost but does not seem to have found much enthusiasm.
"What I like about my work is that there are no meetings, no union, and
I do not have to donate part of my salary to the Territorial Troop
Militias, much less go to UJC meetings," says Roland, a worker in a
restaurant in Chinatown, in Havana.
"Provincial and national leaders have come to talk to the young people
here to raise awareness and make them militants, but people just aren't
up for that," he reflects. "Now life is harder than when my parents were
in the UJC, you have to earn money with a lot of effort and there is no
time for so many meetings," he finishes.
*Translator's note: This video – "Gusano" (Worm) – is about a current
day repudiation rally and the opening scenes show video from the Mariel
Boatlift repudiation rallies.
Source: At 55, Cuba's Young Communist Union Loses Relevance But Does Not
Want To Retire – Translating Cuba -