Communists try to entice young Cubans Doctrine is replaced by camp of pleasure

February 20, 1991|By John M. McClintock | John M. McClintock,Sun Staff Correspondent

GUINES, Cuba -- Lenin and Carlos Marx were nowhere to be found.

Instead there was the blaring music of Billy Idol and Phil Collins, and rock videos. The sign in the men's john advised lovers to save water by taking showers together.

Next to steaming love notes scribbled on the walls was the barely legible signature of one "Fidel Castro," followed by the date of his historic visit.

Can this be Cuba? Is this the proper socialist state, where the high point of the day is an ice cream cone?

Yes, but this is also Paradise Camp, sexy work site of Communist Youth elite who come in monthly shifts to labor in neighboring fields on behalf of the revolution.

Paradise is a pilot project that seeks to answer one of the perplexing problems facing Cuba's aging hierarchy: How to involve 60 percent of the population born after the 1959 revolution.

Cuba's youthful disaffection is everywhere, from tuned-out, hippie-like youngsters -- known as "los freekiss" -- to a popular rock star who sings songs about the generation gap.

"I think Castro has become an historic figure, a kind of distant person deserving of respect but irrelevant to my life and those of my friends," said a 20-year-old engineering student at Havana University. "The kids I know want to have fun. They want to visit other countries. Our lives are incredibly boring."

In a recent survey in Matanzas province, Communist Youth officials were astounded to find that not many young people wanted to belong to the organization, a key step toward full Communist Party membership and a successful career.

But here at Paradise Camp, 50 miles south of Havana, the Communist youth appear to be having a ball. Although the obligatory "Socialism or death" banner streams across the main thoroughfare, the basic theme is painted on every wall: lighthearted sexiness, and let nature take its course.

Wall paintings depict a dog sniffing after a woman. A dewy-eyed, big-breasted painted lady greets those who enter the main gate.

Jose Angel Rodriguez, 27, the Communist Youth official from Havana who is heading the camp for a month, wanders through the buildings as though he were a Baptist preacher at a disco.

Here is the men's dormitory, here the women's, here is the dance floor and the bar. His conversation is filled with statistics about bananas picked, onions, yucca, the revolution, the hated American embargo.

Finally, he stands near a small African-style hut. He is babbling about youth and potato production, his voice rising nervously in conjunction with the curiosity the hut has aroused in his visitors.

"What is it used for?" a visitor asks, staring at a sign saying, "Kimbo de Amor, Ranchito, Love Shack." Inside were five soggy pillows.

"Intimate conversations," he says with a grin.

For pretty Celia Rodriguez, 24, a worker in the Propaganda Ministry in Havana, the camp's atmosphere does not "violate the spirit of the revolution."

"It is simply a new style, but the revolution has not changed at bottom," she says, noting that Mr. Castro himself cut a wide swath through the coeds when he was studying at Havana University. "I heard about Paradise at work, and we all signed up immediately. It's pretty neat, with dancing every night, and the ratio is 60 guys for 40 girls."

But for many youths, such a camp would not be appealing.

Between swigs of rum, Enrique Guillen, 25, a long-haired "freekiss,"

feels "as though I am on the moon."

It is a beautiful night on the Malecon, Havana's stunning waterfront promenade. But Mr. Guillen seems sad.

"The fact is, I don't belong. The cops keep rousting us. 'Papers, please,' that's all they know how to say. That's the national anthem of Cuba: 'Papers, please.' They can't stand anyone who doesn't conform."

Last Christmas Eve, the largest single contingent of worshipers at the National Cathedral were a bunch of drunken "freekiss," says Mr. Guillen, who says he liked "doing the Christ thing because it is magical."

Carlos Verela, 25, has become a folk hero among the young, with his songs that mournfully complain about the generation gap. The regime tried to cancel one of his concerts, but the audience caused such a ruckus that it was allowed to go on.

Today Mr. Verela has been accepted by the state, even though his music is impossible to buy in Havana and is rarely played on state radio.

One of his most famous songs, "William Tell," is really about those who experienced the revolution and those who did not.

"Fathers tell their sons what it was like before the revolution, when electricity was scarce, but today that means nothing to the young people," he said in an interview.

"I view myself as the ambassador of my generation, but within the revolution. It's my turn to shoot the arrow and put the apple on your head.

"Yes, many young people are non-conforming, but they are PTC young people who don't want a Miami in Cuba," he said.

Back at Paradise Camp, the beat goes on.

Antonio Rodriguez, 26, a communications technician, is watching his girlfriend Rosana scrape lunch trays.

He doesn't seem interested in being interviewed.

The revolution?

Silence.

Potato picking?

Silence.

Rosana?

His face lights up. "She's fantastically good-looking, don't you think?"

How long have you known her?

"A week."

What's her last name?

"I don't know," he says. "But she can dance like hell."

TOMORROW: Is a new mass exodus looming?

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