Fidel always trusted in young people. Photo: Juvenal Balán

Born in Pinar del Río, the westernmost part of the island, Eliodoro Pérez Reyes holds a degree in Agronomy Education and has more than a decade of experience as a political and student leader. He believes that the greatest obligation of Cuban youth is to immortalize the thought of Fidel Castro.

In what way is Fidel present among Cuban youth?

Throughout the history of the Revolution, the expressions of admiration, affection, and respect of young Cubans for Fidel have been infinite. I remember a message that we sent him in 2007, and in his answer Fidel said he was convinced that Cuban youth would not fail him. I speak of that special moment because I believe that this has been and will continue to be the case. We have always responded to his call, even today, when he is not physically with us.

In November, 2016, when we received the news of his death, the world saw the youth’s greatest display of love for Fidel. Young people mobilized themselves. One should have seen the steps of the University of Havana and other important public spaces, full of young people who were crying and carrying a photo of him, mourning his departure.

However, Fidel lives on in us, and we have the responsibility to immortalize his thought. That is the most important aspect. We knew that naturally he would have to go one day, but we also knew that we could not let him die. Fidel has remained with us. There is no place where we do not talk about him, where we don’t remember what he was and what he bequeathed to us. He is the undisputed leader of our Revolution, although it was not him alone who made the Revolution. He is and will continue to be our Comandante en Jefe.

Eliodoro Pérez Reyes believes that the greatest challenge of the Cuban youth is to immortalize the thought of Fidel Castro. Photo: Ismael Batista

What have young people inherited from Fidel as a human being?

His sacrifice and unconditional support, as well as his ability to trust that all human beings can achieve whatever they proposes. In addition, his example as a natural leader and a learned man, capable of transcending in Cuba and the world.

What we are most proud of is that he has always believed in us, he closely cared for us, and he spoke to us clearly. That is one of the things that we can pass on to our children, grandchildren, the generations that will not know him physically, who will know of him through history, the same history that we must continue to write ourselves.

The former first secretary of the Young Communist League (UJC) in his home province of Pinar del Río, and current head of the ideological section of the UJC National Committee, maintains that “ideological firmness depends on preserving the achievements of the Cuban Revolution, the gains we enjoy today, and to which we must provide continuity.”

Recalling that there are currently some 2,900,000 young people between 14 and 35 years of age in Cuba, of whom 360,000 are UJC members, the official made clear that “the UJC is responsible for the political leadership of the processes that have to do with all children, adolescents and young people, not only with its members.”

What is the current focus of the UJC's work?

At the 10th UJC Congress, held in July 2015, 59 agreements were made and about 81% of these were clearly ideological. In the midst of updating the Cuban economic model, the UJC essentially focuses on the organization of youth on the island.

We outline the political-ideological line that defines the system of preparation of our cadres, leaders of youth organizations and student movements. In addition, we assist the Martí Youth Movement, the Youth Technical Brigades, and the José Martí Art Instructors Brigade, the Hermanos Saíz Association, and pay attention to the complexities that can emerge in the country in the ideological sphere.

The demonstrations of admiration, affection and respect of young Cubans for Fidel have been boundless. Photo: Juvenal Balán

How are you assisting young people working in the non-state sector?

We have not overlooked support for self-employed youth. In 2016, we met with workers from the non-state sector in the country's different provinces, in a process that emerged from the agreements of the 10th Congress, and it became clear what we had to do to transform the scenario in which these young people work.

We have many UJC members working in the non-state sector and self-employed who are part of municipal or provincial UJC committees, but there are also many who are not members and whom we try to reach through the National Tax Administration Office, the Cuban Workers’ Federation, etc.

Although there are still many dissatisfactions, as we have not managed to get them to participate massively in all youth spaces, we work to integrate them. They have a real, positive role in our economy and their concerns are processed and analyzed by our organization’s unique information system.

What values do you promote among children, adolescents and young people?

There are essential values that we must always reinforce: responsibility, hard work and anti-imperialism. They are key values that, as young Cubans and as an organization, we must not lose sight of. We promote unity, which history has shown us is what allows us to triumph.

What have you proposed to commemorate Fidel’s 91st birthday, the first without his physical presence?

Fidel’s birthday joins other commemorations, such as International Youth Day, but this year we have a double feeling of joy and sadness, as we will celebrate without Fidel, but with the happiness of having him present. Cuban children, adolescents, and young people will not give up marking his day, but we will do so as an encounter with history, through conversations, intergenerational dialogues, tours, visits, and camping at historic sites. Thus, he will be remembered in different parts of the country. Such is the case of Holguín, which will host the traditional camp-out in Birán, where the Comandante was born.

August 13 also coincides with the 60th anniversary of the assassination of the young Saíz brothers, revolutionary victims of Batista’s tyranny. The day will close with the customary climb to Pico Turquino, organized by the Hermanos Saíz Association, as well as an extensive program of activities in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Granma and Pinar del Río.

We have organized a huge concert by Pablo FG and the finalists of the Sonando en Cuba contest, which will take place August 11. This is a concert that has been offered in all the provinces of the country and will close in Havana. Also, August 12 will see the awards for the Jóvenes en el lente (Young people in the lens) photography contest, sponsored by the Center for Youth Studies.