Cuba: Near or Far from Latin America

Daisy Valera
Daisy Valera

About a year ago I had the opportunity for the first time to associate with some young people from Latin America: a Chilean girl, a Columbian boy and an Argentinean guy. Thousands of Latin Americans are currently studying in Cuba. It’s very interesting to note the conception that the majority of the Cuban population has of them.

I can count myself among those who had erroneous ideas about those who populate the rest of Latin America. When these countries are mentioned on our television news, the majority of the time they talk about what Cuba is doing to help them, for example in health and education.

The images that we generally see show sick and illiterate people being helped. As a result of this, an idea has been generated in Cuba regarding the rest of Latin America. If you were to ask many Cubans about these countries and their populations, they wouldn’t hesitate to describe them with words that would inevitably prove condescending.

They would describe them as an ignorant people, lacking any kind of culture. It’s true that there are high levels of poverty and illiteracy in many parts of Central and South America, but that doesn’t justify the generally discriminatory conception that has been created amongst Cubans.

When Cubans see a Latino in the street or at a hospital, we see only a student for whom Cuba is doing a favor. In reality, they are people who come from countries with cultures thousands of years old, which could dwarf the little that Cubans have in comparison.

In Cuba we tend to prefer European culture because it is supposedly better, forgetting that we are a Latin American people who also have tons of problems that are nothing similar to those of Europe.

We have a sense of superiority which lacks the least touch of humility. We are a population that is the fruit of a socialist revolution, but doesn’t understand that the help we give to Latin America shouldn’t be with the goal of offering palliative assistance to “backwards Indians.”

Our intentions as a socialist country shouldn’t be that of the savior who offers aid from a position high above. Likewise, Cuba’s policy shouldn’t be aimed only at governmental agreements that in the end may or may not correspond to what the people want.

The dialogue should be between peoples, and should form a consciousness that only together can we develop a socialist project, which is the only way of getting ahead.

The solution will never lie in only creating medical schools or educational programs. What we have achieved with this is to make everyone believe that Latin America is dependent on Cuba, when really it’s impossible for us to advance if we don’t do it together. Only with a larger grade of awareness will Cubans be able to speak with Latinos and discover that they have many things to teach us.



7 thoughts on “Cuba: Near or Far from Latin America

  • Fascinating perspective – I had no idea. Thanks for sharing this view.

    Reply
  • Daisy:

    Thank you for sharing your insights. As a country that’s both Latin American and Caribbean, Cuba, like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, has an identity that’s quite distinct from Latin American countries in Central or South America.

    What I take issue with in your article, though, is the fact that you are taking your own opinion and stating it as if you are speaking for all the Cuban people. While I’m willing to accept that many Cubans feel the way you do, you make sweeping statements like “When Cubans see a Latino in the street or at a hospital, we see only a student for whom Cuba is doing a favor” and “In Cuba we tend to prefer European culture because it is supposedly better….” doesn’t allow the possibility (especially for readers who have never been to Cuba) of understanding that your opinion is NOT, in fact, shared by all Cuban people. So you undermine your own goal, which seems to be advancing dialogue and insight.

    It is never accurate to say that all the people of any country feel a certain way. Speaking for oneself is better than proposing to speak for an entire country.

    Reply
  • Well, you can take the horse to the river but, you can’t make it drink! The debris of the past is alive and well in Cuba. There are some Cubans who feel they were born in the wrong hemisphere, in the wrong country, and speaking the wrong language. And I don’t blame them! I think that the most patriotic thing they can do is leave the country and live among their “equals”.

    This article explained the complexity of overcoming ignorance and prejudice. As long as the European influence and investment are present in Cuba, the harder it will be for people to recognize their internalized racism. Look at what the history shows from kindergarten to higher education in Cuba! I must tell you that I worked with a Cuban artist. He attended ISA (Institute of Art). When I asked him why he didn’t have more people that reflect actual Cuban society in his work– because I noticed only European faces and themes– he stated that he didn’t know how to paint dark faces! “Are you kidding me?” I asked him. “No, no I am not kidding you,” he said. My head is still spinning!

    There is nothing that shows the European malice in school. There is nothing that shows that wherever the Europeans went, destruction and hate followed…. After all, they didn’t come to America to found universities and centers for higher learning. Are the Cubans dreaming?

    The Cubans are doing the Europeans’ job for free. Europe must be very, very happy!
    The Europeans are not interested in helping communism, at least the Europeans countries that have had the power for centuries. What is their incentive to support Cuba? They are at war as recent as today: Basques, Irish, Corsicans, you name it. There is no love among them. Technology? Yes! Civilized?,Ummm.
    I think that there are a lot of pople in Cuba doing the enemies of Cuba’s work without getting pay for it, which leads me to believe that everything is the way it was prior the revolution. At least the mentality of a great majority according to this piece.
    In the end Fidel did the same that Bolivar did: fight for nothing. They would sell the nation at a very, very cheap price…Good Luck!

    Reply
  • Daisy, this is a very good issue. it has all to do with identity, wish is the living base of any culture. I have witnessed what you say. I visited Bolivia two years ago as part of an official delegation and i could, at the same time that watching the devoted dedication of cuban teachers and doctors, to check on the superiority complex of a few members of the delegation involved in the experience, carring a feeling like: “we have the Revolution and we know how to do this, you have to let your selves be helped”. It’s at list sad, because we are talking of a country with at list 5000 years of history, that has produced enormous amounts of knowledge still to be fully discovered and expressed and from wish (like from any country in America) we have a lot to learn. It’s a real drama with enourmous implications, for example in literacy campaign like te cuban “yo si puedo”, because if you teach in spanish the most probable result is damaging the culture in it’s most sensitive core: the language. And it makes not great difference if you teach in their language using our references because the destruction is ideological. and it would be anothe way another way of exercising colonialism, just as a lot of europeans do when they face for example colaboration projects.
    Is significant than when Cuban goverment and also Venezuela speak of latinamerican integration, they start the history of that integretion on Bolivar , ignoring the previous culture.
    i dont think is a matter of blaming Europe for all it took from us or for the legacy of utilitarism and extreme racionalism that left us but asking and searching for our own heritage as americans. Instead of facing Trovsky with Lenin we could well investigate the conceptions that made possible the rising of the precolonialist cultures in the continent and extract from there what might be usefull for our societies today. There is a preconception believing that every true knowledge most come from Europe, and somehow we take that for granted. I’m in Mexico now, just studing prehispanic sciences and it’s impressive hoy many things we could use; not only specific things but a complete diferent conception on how to face social life.
    The ultimate scenario of revolutionary fighting today is between the global capitalism’s ideology and the chance to find and alternative identity, and it’s likely for America that identity lies in the roots
    Is the same escenario for Cuba, with the particular characteristics of it’s own history and circumstances.
    Finally, i think that in a long time perspective, it will be proved as usefull and enriching the last years of relationship with latinamerican students. For me, personally, it was a turning point of a tremendous importance. Is a shame that in some cases they dont have the chance to express and share freely their own experiences.

    Reply
  • Daisy, this is a very good issue. it has all to do with identity, wish is the living base of any culture. I have witnessed what you say. I visited Bolivia two years ago as part of an official delegation and i could, at the same time that watching the devoted dedication of cuban teachers and doctors, to check on the superiority complex of a few members of the delegation involved in the experience, carring a feeling like: “we have the Revolution and we know how to do this, you have to let your selves be helped”. It’s at list sad, because we are talking of a country with at list 5000 years of history, that has produced enormous amounts of knowledge still to be fully discovered and expressed and from wish (like from any country in America) we have a lot to learn.
    It’s a real drama with enourmous implications, for example in literacy campaign like te cuban “yo si puedo”, because if you teach in spanish the most probable result is damaging the culture in it’s most sensitive core: the language. And it makes not great difference if you teach in their language but using our references because the destruction is ideological. It could become a way of exercising colonialism.
    On the other hand, Is significant when we use to talk in Cuba andalso in Venezuela about latinamerican integration, they start the history of that integretion on Bolivar , ignoring the previous culture.
    i dont think is a matter of blaming Europe for all it took from us or for the legacy of utilitarism and extreme racionalism that left us but asking and searching for our own heritage as americans. Instead of facing Trovsky and Lenin we could well investigate the conceptions that made possible the rising of the precolonial cultures in the continent and extract from there what might be usefull for our societies today. There is a preconception believing that every true knowledge most come from Europe, and somehow we take that for granted. I’m in Mexico now, just studing prehispanic sciences and it’s impressive hoy many things we could use; not only specific things but a complete diferent conception on how to face social life.
    The ultimate scenario of revolutionary fighting today is between the global capitalism’s ideology and the chance to find and alternative identity, and it’s likely for America that identity lies in the roots
    Is the same escenario for Cuba, with the particular characteristics of it’s own history and circumstances.
    Finally, i think that in a long time perspective, it will be proved as usefull and enriching the last years of relationship with latinamerican students. For me, personally, it was a turning point of tremendous importance. Is a shame that in some cases they dont have the chance to express and share freely their own experiences.

    Reply
  • This is one of those issues that we should have in our schedule as a matter of everyday reflection and concern.
    You say: “In Cuba we tend to prefer European culture because it is supposedly better”.
    This is the ruling world way of thinking, that the western model of society and it’s “civilized” human ideal are the only and best alternative. In the case of Cubans, we don’t know enough of the global society to make an impartial evaluation, to understand their complexity. We don’t have much information either about the diverse countries of America, I mean, cultural information rather than political. Neither we have the living reference of an ancient culture which would make us closer to the continental countries and would allow us to understand the history and present life of many American nations.
    You also said: “The dialogue should be between peoples, and should form a consciousness that only together can we develop a socialist project, which is the only way of getting ahead”.
    Of course, a real integration of America begin from it’s roots and it’s own people. It’s possible only if people become aware of what they have, such a great continent, and if we all participate in a process of constructing an authentic identity, of finding simple solutions to the basic problems of survival, recognizing each other, being curious about other American countries’ experience, opening ourselves not only to the western world but also to our unknown continent and it’s ancient knowledge which has so many answers. In America, lots of people have found ways of solving problems by their own means, this is an experience important to us all, important to the construction of a practical paradigm that can be born, as once Martí said, not from any imported model but from our own potentials and the conditions of our countries.

    Reply
  • While many cubans may not be perfectly humble, it’s also a relative thing and a matter of perspective too. Cubans have *nothing* on many, many north americans and europeans — and the petit-bourgeoisie of almost any “Third World” nation-state for that matter. The easy, crude and unconscious arrogance is not to be believed, if you haven’t experienced it; even from those who should know better, or who are in a very questionable position when it comes to matters of being ‘superior’… On the other hand, many people often comment on the modesty of many cubans compared to people generally, from other countries. Someone I know, for instance, recently returned from a cuban vacation and told me how they were struck by the relative modesty of cubans — versus the more aggressive individualism they were subsequently exposed-to in nearby Jamaica… And so there you are.

    Clearly, as is implied here, Daisy and other cubans should travel outside the country more, and meet with the many different sorts of peoples and cultures out there. Dialectically-speaking, it is generally not possible to develop one’s consciousness and intellect when one is not presented — consciously or otherwise — with some contrasting fact or experience with which to compare one’s previously unexamined beliefs and practices. Thus the importance of dialog with strangers, and the positive good of travel to other places, for instance. However, the ever-present threat of imperialist intrigue has me caution against simply opening Cuba up, like any U.S. latin-american client state. So I think that working to make the ALBA confederation a concrete living reality, for instance — where the people of these countries can easily move amongst them all — would be an excellent start; and a compromise with the necessity to maintain vigilance against this relentless, ever-present, ever-awake threat to socialism and freedom.

    I also want to add that AFAIC it is not correct to accept the liberal “identity politics” line, which attempts to paint most-all organized and structured attempts at social change to be inferior or wrong or ‘out-dated’ — and most-all individualistic or pre-capitalist orientations to be superior to these in some way. Such thinking is itself backwards — and actually serves imperial interests in that it leads directly to ‘divide & rule’ opportunities. Socialism is about bringing Humanity together in its common interests — not fixating on what makes us different. Like our nationalities or our color, however much we have pride in what we individually are and where our families hail from. And so it is quite correct to organize people to empower them. To show leadership to them, in fact. People are not rare, exotic species we must reverence from afar: they are actors in their own right, each and every one of them. And since we are dealing with real people — hopefully democratically — they will soon enough let us know if they do not appreciate our efforts on their behalf. The goal is always indeed to empower all people. That’s the very essence of socialism.

    Reply

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