Cuba: The Gloves are Off
July 11, 2013
Raul Castro’s Remarks on Cuba’s Social Crises
HAVANA TIMES — Making Cuba’s official discourse reflect more and more
aspects of everyday reality may well be one of the most important
political processes undertaken on the island today. President Raul
Castro’s pronouncements Sunday to the parliament were a clear expression
of this process.
He began by saying his criticisms would help the international press
disparage Cuba, but went on to suggest that restricting the public
debate of economic, political and social problems simply to deprive the
enemy of potential weapons is misguided.
He called “to discuss reality unflinchingly”, because “the first step
towards overcoming any problem effectively is acknowledging its
existence, in all its dimensions, and looking for the causes and
conditions which have brought about the phenomenon.”
I admit I was somewhat surprised he publicly criticized such a broad
range of domestic problems. Half-jokingly, a good friend of mine, an
avid reader of Letters from Cuba (“Cartas desde Cuba”), said to me:
“he’s left you without any topics for your blog.”
To tell the truth, I don’t believe Raul Castro’s speech will deprive
national or foreign newspapers of any work. On the contrary, his
diagnosis invites journalists to delve more deeply into some of the ills
which Cuban society continues to endure and to explore possible treatments.
“The first step towards overcoming any problem effectively is
acknowledging its existence, in all its dimensions, and looking for the
causes and conditions which have brought about the phenomenon.”
Countless pieces of investigative or sociological journalism could be
written about the “marked decline of such moral and civic values as
honesty, decency, shame, decorum, integrity and sensitivity towards the
problems of others.”
I don’t particularly believe these problems are more severe in Cuba than
in other societies and feel there is still time to revert their effects.
Cuba has “modernized” slowly and, for better or for worse, Cubans still
do many things the old-fashioned way.
Till last year, cars and houses were still being bought and sold without
any paperwork; supporting a relative is part of a deeply-rooted national
culture; any neighbor “throws you a lifeline” when your food runs out
before the end of the month and, for most people, loyalty among friends
is still more important than making a profit.
It is also true, however, that Cubans began to shed many of these
qualities during the economic crisis of the 1990s, and that this process
could well pick up speed with the inevitable liberalization of the
“market” and as a result of the social toxins this will invariably
inject into society.
Frankly, I am unsure as to whether the fight against the demons awakened
by modernization can be won. The Cuban president is proposing a
long-term strategy, mindful of the education of new generations through
the culture the reform process intends to build.
“I have the bitter impression that, as a society, we are increasingly
more educated, but not necessarily more cultured,” he stated. This
impression could be taken as a point of departure for the redesign of
Cuba’s education system, as a call to stop extolling its achievements
and begin rethinking it as a cultural instrument.
Little was left unsaid by Raul Castro, who spoke of the country’s low
salaries, the two-currency system, the generalized practice of stealing
from State companies, the corruption of public officials, cases of fraud
in education, vandalism, illegal construction work and the degradation
of civic customs.
The president got the gist of the matter when he blamed part of the
prevailing social chaos on “the lack of respect, in the first place,
towards State entities of the country’s institutional framework,
something which undermines their authority and ability to demand that
the population adhere to existing regulations.”
Without a doubt, Cubans must start to put their house in order at the
top, because, socially speaking, a high official who gets rich on bribes
is far more noxious that 1,000 workers who “pinch” here and there to
stretch their salaries some and be able to make ends meet.
Managers who steal from their companies are, after all, the main
suppliers of Cuba’s black market, and most illegal practices are carried
out with the blessing of public officials who, in exchange for a bit of
hard currency, would authorize the building of lofts in the Capitolio
The president criticized the fact “this happens right under our noses,
meeting with no condemnation or opposition from citizens.” The truth,
however, is that people do not have access to, or are unaware of, the
institutional mechanisms though which they can claim their rights or
demand adherence to the law.
There is no ombudsman’s office, in Cuba, which protects the rights of
citizens or consumers, and few people know how to proceed when an
inspector requests a bribe, where to submit a complaint against a police
officer or who to turn to when a manager steals from one’s company.
Some of the old mechanisms currently in place are out of date, rusty or
corrupted. If the government has any intention of having citizens
participate “in a permanent civic movement”, it would help to provide
these citizens with institutions capable of addressing, processing and
giving legal form to such civic actions.
These challenges notwithstanding, speaking about the crisis faced by
society in a straightforward manner will help Cubans identify with their
government’s political discourse, particularly if it begins to address
their everyday life and the problems they face.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original posted in Spanish by BBC
Source: “Raul Castro’s Remarks on Cuba Today” –