Children of the Revolution
When I was growing up in Cuba back in the 1960s, my one great ambition was to become a pionero – a Communist "pioneer".
Back then, primary school children as young as five were encouraged at school to join the pioneros, which could be best described as a cross between the ultra-radical wing of the Boy Scouts and the Hitler Youth.
Like many of my school friends, I was desperate to become a pionero and proudly wear my pionero scarf and attend revolutionary meetings and sings protest songs and write love poems to Fidel Castro and learn how to fire an old Soviet machine gun and ... you know what I mean.
My parents had other ideas.
Despite strong pressure form some of my teachers and the occasional tantrum from me, they simply refused to let me join. No son of mine will become a Communist pioneer, my counter-revolutionary father would say, as I recount in my book, Child of the Revolution: Growing up in Castro’s Cuba.
Well, I no longer want to be a pionero.
But plenty of otherwise normal kids in Cuba have bugger all choice – the Jose Marti Pioneer Movement, as it is called in the official media, currently has over 1.4 million members across the island, aged between five and about 12 or 13.
And the leaders of these boys and girls - the ones deemed to be the most ideologically promising - have been meeting in Havana at the fourth congress of the pioneros.
The closing ceremony was attended by Raul Castro and a host of other Communist Party bigwigs, all of whom kept reassuring the anxious children that while Fidel Castro could not make it in person, he was there in spirit. In their hearts, no less.
You can read a stomach-turning report of proceedings here, in a lengthy article from the English language edition of Granma, the official propaganda sheet of the Castro regime.
But two things jumped out at me:
First, according to Granma, Raul Castro was the hero of the day, showered with “loads of hugs and kisses” from the pioneers.
And second, each "delegate" gets to take home a copy of the book Cien Horas Con Fidel, which has just been re-published in Havana.
As the title suggests, the book is essentially the transcript of 100 hours of interviews with Fidel Castro, in which the Comandante en Jefe generously provides his views and thoughts on everything from light bulbs to Jesus Christ.