MIAMI - They led a life of privilege in a society of chronic scarcity. Children of top Cuban officials from Fidel Castro on down, they attended elite schools and often received coveted visas to study abroad.
They were being groomed to lead Cuba into the 21st century. Yet, with the passage of time and the decline of communism in the world, many of the children of Cuban revolutionaries have stopped believing in their parents and their values. Some never did believe.
The recent spectacular escape to the United States of Castro's own daughter dramatized the crisis of confidence among the children of the Cuban revolutionary "aristocracy." Alina Fernandez Revuelta, Castro's 37-year-old daughter, is only the latest in a growing number of elite defectors, a few of whom are now in Miami.
Friday, on the eve of the 35th anniversary of Castro's rise to power, his granddaughter, Alina Salgado Fernandez, 16, joined her mother in Columbus, Ga.
The stories of the disenchanted younger generation are a poignant reminder of the severe emergency on the island, where the revolution is now in dire straits as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Castro's principal financial benefactor.
Analysts of Cuban affairs said the alienation of once-loyal supporters is the most striking example of the failure of the Cuban system to project its revolutionary dream into the future.
"It shows that Castro has exhausted the reserves of idealism he once commanded," said Antonio Jorge, a professor at Florida International University who monitors Cuban developments. Said Osvaldo Rodriguez, son of a famous Cuban revolutionary: "To flourish in life, you need illusion, hope for the future. Cuba today is a country without illusion, without future."
Rodriguez left Cuba for Spain in 1988 and came to Miami about a year ago. He is a hero to exiles because he came up with the idea to help Castro's daughter escape Dec. 20. Rodriguez, who was born around the time of the triumph of the revolution in 1959, was a childhood friend of Revuelta Fernandez.
Getting Castro's daughter out of Cuba was the fulfillment of a promise whispered into her ear on the eve of his own defection. "I will get you out," Rodriguez vowed to Fernandez Revuelta in Cuba in 1988.
Long before that, Fernandez Revuelta had lost hope in the system her father imposed on the island two years after she was born. Eric Salado, 36, another childhood friend of Castro's daughter, remembers that when Fernandez Revuelta was a teenager, she intensely disliked the revolution.
"She used to go around saying `This really sucks,' " said Salado, a Miami orthopedic surgeon whose father was a revolutionary martyr like Osvaldo Rodriguez's father.
Marcelo Salado and Fructuoso Rodriguez, Osvaldo's father, were killed in the late 1950s fighting against the government of Fulgencio Batista.
Osvaldo Rodriguez said that until the early 1970s he believed in the revolution. But Eric Salado, Marcelo Salado's son, said he never had any illusions about Castro.
"From the start, my family wanted to leave, but we were prohibited from doing so because of my father's relevance as martyr of the early revolutionary struggle," he said.
In 1983, Salado and other family members fled to Florida. They brought letters written by Marcelo Salado criticizing communism. Eric Salado said his father fought against Batista, not for Castro or communism.
"If my dad were alive today, he'd be fighting against Castro," said Eric Salado.
Other children of top revolutionaries have also expressed reservations about the system.
Ivan Abrantes Prieto, 28, son of Jose Abrantes, once Castro's personal security chief and powerful Interior Minister, broke with his father and became an anti-Castro dissident in the late 1980s. He arrived in Miami last week.
"I couldn't take the fact that I didn't believe in the system and that my father was one of the most powerful men in Cuba, in charge of national security," he said.
He now believes that one of the reasons his father fell from official grace was probably the perception among his colleagues that he couldn't rein in his own child.
Jose Abrantes, a full member of the Cuban Communist Party's Central Committee, was fired amid a political crisis in 1989 in which a top Cuban general, Arnaldo Ochoa, and other associates were executed.
About two weeks after the executions, Abrantes was arrested and charged with negligence and "corruption or tolerance of corrupt behavior." He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
"I went to the prison to visit him often, and we began to patch up our differences," said Abrantes Prieto. "He even sent me a warning through a friend that he no longer could protect me and to be careful."
In 1991, Jose Abrantes died in prison, in still unclear circumstances.
In Miami, Abrantes Prieto pondered the larger meaning of this year's revolutionary anniversary.
If they could, said Abrantes Prieto, most - if not all - the children of top revolutionaries would like to leave Cuba.
"Our parents urged us to emulate revolutionary heroes," said Abrantes Prieto. "In the end, we mainly want to emulate Castro's daughter and get out. The revolution is in ruins."