HAVANA TIMES — Last week, three declarations in Cuba made news almost simultaneously: the statements by singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez, Cuban Vice-President Diaz Canel and the mastermind behind the country’s economic reforms, Marino Murillo. The three made mention of the conditions that the majority of Cubans live and work under. Their words have sparked off a storm of opinions in Cuba’s precarious and transnational public sphere.
The folk musician shared his impressions about how impoverished a good part of Cuba’s population has become, mentioning he now realizes that people are “screwed, very screwed” following a concert. Lyrically, the Cuban vice-president called on people to overcome their poverty with virtue. And the reforms tsar reproached the island’s farmers for their low productivity. These remarks would be mere additions to the long sequence of compassionate or reproachful stigmas stamped on humble mortals from the heights of Olympus, were it not for two issues that give the matter at stake particular significance: that of the rights of the population.
The first piece of news in this connection is the publication of the New Labor Code by Cuba’s Official Gazette. This legislation, modifying the rights of workers substantially, obviates the need for progressive changes in the forms in which labor is organized, guarantees for social rights and respect towards the poorest working class sectors, at a time in which the social protection hitherto guaranteed by the State is being dismantled and new commercial regulations and actors are emerging.
The second piece of “breaking news” is that the Brazilian company Odebrecht, responsible for the construction of the infrastructure to be used at the Mariel Special Development Zone and other places around Cuba (under agreements signed by Havana and Brasilia) is currently facing proceedings back home for a series of accusations, including, among others, the use of slave labor and poor working conditions at its construction sites. One cannot help but wonder what will become of Cuban workers hired by such predators, in a country where individual rights are merely an issue for coffee-shop debates and a topic addressed by a handful of dissident blogs and elite publications.
The two pieces of news – and Olympic laments surrounding them – swirl uncomfortably inside my head, like signs in these times of primitive accumulation by the nascent authoritarian capitalism of the Cuban State, times in which those who rule and enjoy the benefits of the status quo seem to conveniently forget those promises made to the people and the sacrifices the latter has made, always in the name of its future happiness. Today, they would attempt to convince these people, again, that they must endure, shut up and trust their leaders…a while longer – a people who has been screwed over, who owe their successes to their leaders and shoulder the full burden of their failures.
Faced with so much cynicism, one brings to mind those songs by a certain band in Havana, a band that, some years ago, made its debut with pieces that called for lucid reflection on the world that surrounds us. With Como un espejismo (“Like a Mirage”) – “there’s so much pettiness in a slice of bread, there are people mired in waiting. People give alms and drive off in a Mercedes Benz (…)” – and Psicologia al Dia (“Modern Psychology”) – “I will hold you by the neck and squeeze, and tell you with firmness you cannot complain, it gives me a headache, it puts me in a bad mood, being choked isn’t such a bad thing. Let’s look at the bright side, let us be humanistic” – the Cuban duo Buena Fe, perhaps unwittingly, traced the outlines of the present. It is a present where our fathers and grandfathers will be mere, sad spectators of the feast, while noblemen and minstrels sing praises and utter reproaches and laments, trampling on memory and decency.