Conviction and Disenchantment in Today’s Cuba

Armando Chaguaceda

Havana Traffic. Photo: Caridad

This can be considered my first diary entry of 2011, not only because the previous ones were born from events experienced last year, but because on this occasion I’m addressing an issue that my country is currently facing, and within this I’m discussing people whose fortunes and fates I truly care about.

It turns out that as a result of the changes now underway in Cuba, several people have written me to share their views regarding the impact they are experiencing — or foresee suffering — in their daily lives.  They speak about the repercussions of these changes on their lives and the directions implied for the nation.

Distinct from the aseptic analyses or mere daily testimonies, these involve words that resonate in my mind with an immense amount of reason and feeling; at the same time they combine a confused mixture of pride and resignation, as well as conviction and disenchantment.

These are words that spring from those who have given their lives to a redemptive process and who today, in their decline (and of this) feel that “something” (equality, justice) has been removed from sight or has simply abandoned them.

But they don’t regret what they did, indeed their pride is what keeps them standing, and this is admirable to me.  With their trust in me to vent their feelings — as well as the affection and respect that I feel for them — I am providing my space in Havana Times to their paralyzing voices.

“I am part of the lost generation that [Leonardo]Padura would write about.  I had to go to parties wearing cane cutter or military boots while postponing many personal dreams for the good of society.  This was a time when wearing jeans was a symbol of corruption or ideological weakness, not to even mention having a tape player.  I went on internationalist missions, worked as a volunteer without pay and I went through every difficult period submitting to the usual demands for sacrifice at each moment, including the Special Period crisis.  However, contrary to others who today grumble about what they didn’t do or what they could have had, etc., I’m convinced that what I did back then I did out of conviction and I have no regrets; it was —like everything in my life — a personal decision to not simply get swept along with the current.”


“I fear that the changes that are required, and that are in fact inevitable, are marked by “cubania” and will fall way short of what our homeland requires.  What many of us did in my generation was preceded by a generation of people who gave everything, some even their lives and without being able to enjoy anything.  That was what always compelled me to sacrifice the few things that could have satisfied me.  The only property that we each have that no one can privatize is our life, and that is what I have given in everything I have done up to now.

Yes, it hurts for me to see that the survivors of that generation —those from whom I inherited their values, those who survived extreme sacrifice — not all of them united around the thought that Che asked of the ‘new man’ as a humble revolutionary who sacrificed themselves in daily work for the immense majority.  A part of them became the same as what they helped to overthrow: a stratum of functionaries who accrue the opportunities that the immense majority don’t have.  This is what we have to change.”


“Sadly, no social work is ever pure.  They all have their blemishes, and life tells me that any “ism” (slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, Christianity, etc.) never was and never will be perfect because it will always have a class, a strata or a group that possess all the opportunities and assumes the right to lead the immense majority.  On many occasions one never knows the origin of those who are given authority or how they got it.  Like in the days of kings and lords, under capitalism there arose the bourgeois and in socialism the high leadership.

“What does indeed hurt me is that while I’ve always rejected fraud and deception, I see that our ideals have begun to change gradually as a class of functionaries has gradually appropriated the same houses that we stripped from the bourgeoisie.  They are marrying and forming relationships within their strata; their children and family members don’t sacrifice themselves for this human plan; today they drive around in new cars with yellow [private] license plates; and they travel to exclusive tourist facilities in the name of those of us who gave everything.  And all of this happens among people in positions who have the same last names as other leaders.  This does in fact worry me because it is leading us down a path that I didn’t want to see.”


“For someone like me — someone who likes parables and symbolism —Cuba today is like a human body, where its head (the administering bureaucracy and the high-level officials) rests on the body (our people), whose stomach and organs (the economy) feed some large but deformed arms (social expenses) all supported by flimsy legs (the country’s real productive capacity) that lost the crutches that propped it up (the socialist camp) and that today is staggering.

“What’s more, stomach cancer has been detected and we are faced with the dilemma of how to operate: either we transplant all the organs at one time (with the negative social impact this will have in the short run), or we replace each organ one at a time to make the pain more bearable, but with the danger of the cancer spreading.   Each of the decisions has a social cost, and we are at the crossroads of which decision to make.”


“Unfortunately, as Padura well reflects, with my age and health I am a vivid reflection of that generation and its decisions.  I have to continue working to sustain a needy family in a drama in which I struggle day after day.  I don’t have the gift of writing, but I write with the wisdom of life and the strength of the heart.”


I don’t know what evoked these words in you, but every time someone writes me it makes me fall silent, and I only manage to walk aimlessly along the lacustrine banks of this city.  Like this I can drown my rage in crying, without anyone to bother me.