Cubans Doubt a Change at the Top Will Bring Change at the Bottom

“I didn’t even know there was this transition happening, and I would bet that most of my neighbors didn’t know either,” he said. “It’s not that it’s not important. It’s just that whatever happens up there doesn’t trickle down to us. S o why does it matter?”

Like others in his generation, the future seems a distant concern, perhaps more of an idea than a reality. With so much reform and so little change, daily life is where hopes begin and end.

As Cuba’s new president traded off at the podium with the old one at the National Assembly this week, residents in the neighborhood of La Ceiba took to other forms of entertainment. They huddled in a worn down park, browsing the relatively new luxury of public internet that has come to Havana in recent years.

It was a midmorning affair, with well-groomed youth staring down at cellphones, dashing off messages or chatting with family abroad. Nearby, parked outside of the neighborhood bodega with a few friends, Luis Ernesto Rodriguez, 28, sized up his day.

As a construction worker, he helps build and finish houses, irregular work that earns him less than $80 a month. Today, however, he was off.

“The people I am working for can’t afford to buy the materials, so what can I do?” he said. “Here, it’s day-to-day.”

Older men worked along the periphery of the denuded space, collecting trash or fixing cars.

“The youth of today are different from us,” said Alberto Gonzalez, a 54-year-old trash collector whose pushcart was littered with glass bottles and refuse. “They didn’t see firsthand the benefits of the revolution that we did.”

He and at least some of his generation buy into Cuba’s social compact. They have seen better times, and to them working toward a common prosperity amounts to more than just words.

Still, life is hard. On his base salary of about $10 a month, there are few luxuries for Mr. Gonzalez. Beers cost $1 a piece, after all. Though in some ways he resents the young men and women sitting around in the park and not working, he understands.

“Today,” he said, “there is nothing for the youth.”

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