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Posted December 04, 2004 by publisher in Cuban Culture

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By Tracey Eaton | The Dallas Morning News

At the tender age of 8, Lazaro Castro gave a fiery political speech to hundreds of thousands of people, then unexpectedly leaped off the stage and kissed Fidel Castro on the cheek.

More than four years and dozens of speeches later, the precocious youngster is a celebrity of sorts, a poster child for the Cuban revolution. He’s one of the most famous of Cuba’s pioneros, or pioneers: young Cubans who get their political and patriotic baptism each Oct. 9, the anniversary of the death of guerrilla Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

On that special day this year, 148,199 Cuban children ages 5 and 6 became pioneers and were given their first blue neck scarf, a piece of cloth sacred in this land. They wear it to school every day this fall and on Fridays they stand and call out in unison, “We will be like Che!”

Pioneers are taught to worship Guevara, killed in 1967 by Bolivian soldiers trained by Green Beret and CIA operatives.

The late Argentine rebel is an icon in the developing world and the subject of “The Motorcycle Diaries,” a movie released in September about his 1950s adventures in South America.

Lazaro Castro, now 13, adores Che ó and Fidel Castro. He started learning about their revolutionary exploits as a preschooler. He took their messages to heart, memorizing their speeches

Today, he travels around the country and abroad spreading the word to millions of people and issuing stinging criticisms of President Bush and U.S. sanctions against Cuba.

But not all people are comfortable seeing Cuban pioneers so immersed in politics.

“Getting children involved in political problems that only adults can understand violates what makes childhood unique,” said Alina Sanchez, 26, a veterinarian. “Childhood is sacred. It’s a time of innocence.”
Castro loyalists counter that the pioneers’ political work underscores just how much the government cares about children.

The debate over Cuban children and politics erupted during the custody battle over Elin Gonzalez, a 5-year-old found clinging to a raft off Florida’s coast on Thanksgiving Day in 1999.

His mother and 11 others hoping to reach the United States died in the voyage. In June 2000, a U.S. judge ordered that Elin be returned to his father in Cuba. The boy’s Miami relatives had fought against that, saying they feared he would be “brainwashed” in Cuba.

“State control of the Cuban child begins shortly after birth,” conservative writer William Norman Grigg wrote during the Elin affair. “Cuban schoolchildren are marinated in hatred for enemies of the revolution ... and relentlessly programmed to love Fidel.”

Under Cuban law, “the family, teachers, political organizations and mass organizations” have a duty to help children develop a “communist personality.”

Claudia Marquez, an independent Cuban journalist, said she once went to her 5-year-old boy’s classroom and saw his teacher passing out plastic guns and shouting, “Go! Shoot! Boom! Boom! We are killing imperialism!”

“Education in Cuba is free and obligatory until age 16 but it is infused with the ideology that rules our island,” she wrote in a December 2003 newspaper column. “What use is education when it turns into a weapon of mass indoctrination?”

In July, President Bush put his own spin on the treatment of children in Cuba when he accused the socialist government of promoting child prostitution.

Castro and his supporters reacted sharply.

It’s a “vile accusation ... dreadful and repugnant,” the Cuban president said. “No country in the world has given children as much physical and moral protection, as much health and education, as Cuba.”

  1. Follow up post #1 added on December 07, 2004 by chuck

    When Castro’ Revolution meets its eventual end, the pioneros will last as long as the Frei Deutsches Jugen of East Germany or the Hiter Jugen of the Third Reich.

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