Under Cuban Socialism Something Was Always Missing / Iván García
Ivan Garcia, 12 September 2016 — In the best of times, when there were
two ration books, sixty-year-old retiree Juan Alberto was happy. One was
for food, which allotted you half a pound of beef every fifteen days,
and one was for “manufactured goods,” which allowed you to buy a pair of
domestically produced shoes once a year.
During that period, neighborhood stores carried condensed milk and
Russian canned fruit, employees could buy oranges at their workplaces
and regime supporters could afford to throw cartons of eggs at the
“scum” who were trying to leave the country from the port of Mariel.
Juan Alberto admits, however, there were more restrictions and
censorship and less freedom than there are now.
“It has always been a dictatorship but, in the supposedly happy 1980s,
believing in God, being a Jehovah’s Witness or watching pornographic
films could get you into trouble. You couldn’t stay in hotels, travel
overseas or sell your house. And if you left the country permanently,
the state would confiscate it,” says Juan Alberto, who is thinking of
emigrating to the United States in a few months through a circuitous
Central American route.
Carlos, a sociologist, notes that, when comparisons are made between the
two eras of Cuban communism, “something is always missing in each.
Before, the ration book meant people were guaranteed a certain amount
food and clothing. More products were available in the free or parallel
market, you could have milk in your coffee for breakfast and salaries
had real purchasing power. But it was illegal to possess hard currency
or buy home appliances in hard currency stores. And social control was
much more strict. Now, because of social pressures and new technologies,
there is a certain amount of personal freedom. But not enough freedom to
change the current situation, bring about serious reform or participate
Official academics will not admit it but the role played by the peaceful
opposition and alternative press has been a silent lever, strong enough
to prod timid but necessary reforms from the regime.
All the changes carried out under Raul Castro’s presidency (2006-2016)
were intended to address the demands of opposition groups from the
1980s, 1990s and 2000s. These included unrestricted internet access, the
use of mobile phones, the elimination of apartheid-like practices in
tourism, the ability to buy and sell homes and automobiles, and the
relaxation of laws on emigration.
Are there differences between the Cubas of Castro I and Castro II? Of
Both rulers are autocrats but Fidel Castro was a strongman with
delusions of grandeur. Under the guise of volunteerism or on a whim, he
concocted schemes for agriculture, housing and highway construction,
coffee and banana farming. And during hurricanes he became a meteorologist.
He ignored rules and regulations and even the constitution itself. He
created a parallel government with companies like CUBALSE and CIMEX and
managed the nation’s treasury as he saw fit.
Fidel Castro handed himself a blank check and ruled as though he were a
landowner and the country were his farm. The anthropological damage he
caused the nation is legendary.
Perhaps future studies will demonstrate that the state and its media
created polarization within society by attacking people for just
thinking differently. Or for believing that the political experiment was
nonsense. Or that Marxist ideology and totalitarianism destroyed the
social fabric and the economy of the island.
There should also be studies done on the “collateral damage” to Cubans
themselves, such as the harm caused by encouraging denunciation,
snitching, monitoring of neighbors and creating family divisions over
simple political disagreements.
If a future military regime decided to build a more pluralistic and
democratic society — one with a market economy, small and medium-sized
businesses operating under an appropriate legal framework, independent
business cooperatives and citizen involvement in government decisions —
the Cuban economy could reach the level of the so-called Asian tigers:
South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. But it would take two or
three generations to re-instill key human values.
There are fewer restrictions now, private business owners have more
options (though under the gaze of authorities), intrusions into people’s
private lives have diminished, and the long speeches and tiresome
political portraits have largely disappeared. But in the ten years of
Raul Castro’s presidency, there has still been no significant
improvement in the quality of people’s lives.
The housing shortage, which affects more than one and a half million
people and forces three generations to live under the same roof, is
worse now than during the rule of his brother Fidel. The proliferation
of impoverished neighborhoods is striking. In Havana alone there are
more than a hundred slums where residents have no potable water and live
crammed into huts with tile roofs and walls made of cardboard or aluminum.
Education and public health have fallen apart. Thousands of cattle die
annually from hunger and thirst. The livestock industry is half what it
was in 1959. The sugar, agricultural and fishing industries are
shrinking or not expanding fast enough. Orange juice as well as snapper
and shrimp are luxuries in Cuba.
The prosperous and sustainable socialism that Raul Castro promised is
only a slogan. Material conditions today are insufficient to support
strong economic growth.
His government’s biggest achievements have been in the international
arena. It reestablished diplomatic relations with the United States,
brokered a peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC
rebels and negotiated a significant reduction of the national debt with
the country’s creditors.
He also approved an investment law which, despite limitations such as
not allowing local business owners to invest in their own country, is
intended to serves as an enticement to international investors. But due
to concerns about a judiciary that is not independent, a form of
capitalism that is controlled by the Cuban military, a system which does
not allow employers to pay their workers directly and the uncertainty
about the nation’s future after Raul Castro’s retirement, the law has
not generated sufficient investment to jumpstart the economy.
In Cuba life is too much of a burden. As soon as you get up in the
morning, there is something you already ack, whether it be water,
electricity or coffee for breakfast. You venture outside and mass
transit is chaotic. And the food shortage remains a big headache.
Fifty-six years after Fidel Castro seized power, the overall sense is
that Cubans are tired of everything. That is why so many are deciding to
leave. They see no solution in sight.
Martí Noticias, September 9, 2016
Source: Under Cuban Socialism Something Was Always Missing / Iván García
– Translating Cuba –