Cuba: Prosperity for Whom?
November 14, 2013
Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — With the triumphalism that characterizes the Cuban press
(a tone that today evinces hints of a reformist demagogy), the official
newspaper Juventud Rebelde recently published the partial results of the
census conducted in our country last year.
The title of the article and a handful of tables showing statistical
averages hope to convince the reader that Cuba is experiencing a
marvelous reform process and that citizen wellbeing and prosperity are
beginning to flourish.
Had the title been a bit less pretentious, there would perhaps have been
no reason to write the criticisms gathered in this post. The fact of the
matter is that a good many indices and statistics presented in the
article cannot be brandished as a sign of wellbeing, not without a very
high dose of cynicism, at least.
At most, we can perhaps talk about a slight improvement in the
precarious situation of many Cubans, of the many, for instance, who, 60
years after the proclamation of the Moncada Program, still do not have
decorous housing and are crowded in shelters without private bathrooms,
or those who lack such basic utilities as water and electricity.
In addition to the statistics on housing, Juvetud Rebelde also proudly
publishes indices on the number of electrical appliances citizens own,
so as to illustrate that we Cubans are privileged in terms of the things
we have at home.
These indices, however, do not convince me. To begin with, Cuban
newspapers have made a habit of criticizing what they call
“consumerism”, the practice of buying and using products like those
listed. What, now that we own them, they’ve suddenly become good? And,
more importantly, do so many of us actually own these things?
When I read that there are 0.78 color TVs per home (and 0.2 black and
white sets), I ask myself whether that is a true indication of
prosperity or, on the contrary, a figure that attests to the precarious
situation we live in. Because, what this number ultimately indicates is
that, no matter what the type, there’s less than one television set per
home. The same holds for refrigerators.
I know there are countries that are doing far worse. What I don’t accept
is being told we have the lead in anything. If we look at the numbers on
telephones, be they land or cellular lines, we suddenly plummet to the
lowest levels you find around the world, to say nothing of automobile
statistics (even though I am not exactly a fan of this means of
transportation, such figures are still an indicator of material prosperity).
The saddest part of this is that, back in the days of capitalism, we
were the envy of some European countries (such as Spain and Portugal)
when it came to such indices.
It’s true that, back then, social inequality spelt a huge mass of Cubans
mired in extreme poverty, the dead time after harvests, chronic
unemployment, malnutrition and illiteracy.
As we know, abstract statistical averages say nothing of social
differences. This is not communist propaganda: you can find such
comments in surveys conducted by organizations like Catholic Youth.
That is the other social dimension which the article in Juventud Rebelde
scandalously leaves out. There is talk of growing wellbeing, as though
it were reaching everyone equally, as though inequality were not
increasing every day in our society.
I do believe (and can actually see it at every step) that the bread and
fish is multiplying in the baskets of a privileged minority in Cuba.
However, for every well-to-do home we’ve all seen, the ones with a
television set, a DVD player and an AC in every room, where everyone in
the family has one or two mobile phones, among other things, how many
marginalized families are living in poverty, so as to balance out the
averages published with so much self-assurance in the newspaper?
Can an average be calculated by throwing the satisfied and the hungry
into the same lot? Are the bare feet of children, more and more common
in humble neighborhoods, compensated for by the brand sneakers worn by a
handful of fortunate citizens?
Are we reforming the country to go back to the past? If one reads the
official press between the lines, you can begin to appreciate some of
the consequences of Cuba’s current reformist course.
I wonder what kind of prosperity is caught sight of in the closing down
of small schools in areas that are difficult to access, the same that
were once the pride of Cuba’s educational system.
It is the same lack of prosperity apparently endured by a number of art
schools and “rationalized” healthcare centers, particularly those that
poorer parents have no choice but resort to.
These were symbols of what was once understood as “prosperity” under
socialism. Sorry, socialism is an “obsolete” model, as Pope Benedict
explained during his visit to Cuba (and no representative of the
official press cared to contradict him).
A man as supportive of the regime as Raul Antonio Capote is today
concerned that women stand to lose from this process towards
“prosperity” characterized by junk-food stands and reggaeton music.
Though some wanted to lynch writer Roberto Zurbano for his daring
statements, the system’s inability to do away with the racial divide in
Cuban society was once again made evident by the author.
I can understand that those who spend their vacations at golf resorts in
Varadero, and even Paris and New York, should be talking about
prosperity, but what type of prosperity is there for those who have
nothing but Havana’s unsanitary and dangerous ocean drive or the no less
dangerous consumption of alcohol as a means of recreation?
The question is particularly relevant now, when the sword of new
prohibitions has been plunged without qualms into privately-owned means
Not even a Chinese doctor trained in ancient healing arts seems capable
of fixing the problem of the measly salaries earned by Cuba’s working
population, who are denied access to hard currencies.
If we recall the continuous reduction of subsidized food products or the
elderly population, who have no other income than their miniscule
pensions and are forced to rummage through garbage bins, we cannot help
but ask ourselves, with no small measure of concern, where these
journalists are seeing any prosperity.
I feel it is premature, to say the least, to speak of any prosperity in
general terms, at least when it comes to Cuba’s working people and given
the conditions they live in. I hope the staff of Juventud Rebelde will
not unquestionably portray the golden side of the reform process, where
the hardships of the underprivileged are forgotten.
Source: “Cuba: Prosperity for Whom? – Havana Times.org” –