Is Cuba’s Phone Company Celebrating a Pre-Revolutionary Holiday?

Dmitri Prieto

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba’s State telecommunications monopoly (ETECSA) has accustomed those of us who use its mobile phone services – there are no other options on the island, and we CubaCel users are already in the millions – to expect promotional offers (of the kind where any purchase of credit over 20 CUC is doubled) near socially significant dates, such as Mother’s Day, Saint Valentine’s and Christmas.

For Mother’s Day, for instance, any line credit purchased from abroad between May 12 and 15 was doubled.

The strange thing is that yesterday, for the second time this month, I received a message with a similar offer. What’s strange isn’t that the offer applies to credit purchases made at the “homestead”, as we affectionately refer to our homeland (they’ve been doing that for some time now), but that they should make two such offers in a single month. The latest offer is valid from May 19 to 22.

The question is: what important date falls within that span of time?

The answer sticks out like a sore thumb: in addition to the anniversary of Jose Marti’s death (on May 19), a very strange reason to offer a discount, as it is a day of mourning and not of celebration, the “patriotic date” that fits the bill perfectly is May 20.

May 20, 1902 is the date in which Cuba was “formally” proclaimed an “independent” State, and it was a national holiday until the first yeas of the post-insurrectional period (after 1959). The date was celebrated with the same gusto with which the 4th of July is still celebrated in the United States.

I use quotation marks because Cuba’s “independent” status came with a proviso that entitled the United States to intervene militarily whenever its leaders deemed it necessary, and to set up military bases on Cuban soil. It was the beginning of a neo-colonial period that would last more than 50 years and whose restrictions upon Cuban sovereignty were the reason the day was ditched as a festive holiday (and why “socialist Cuba” traded it for January 1st)

But there are those today who, with affection, nostalgia and even a wish for retribution or revenge, fondly recall the holiday of old.

Could Cuba’s State telecommunications monopoly be paying tribute to the 20th of May as well?

Note that the offer applies to purchases made “in Cuba.” What an interesting symptom of “normalization”!

7 thoughts on “Is Cuba’s Phone Company Celebrating a Pre-Revolutionary Holiday?

  • There was a policy to encourage or favour immigration from “the old country”, and racial issues were part of that motivations. But there were also the large landowners who wanted cheap labour for their sugar plantations and that meant drawing in immigrants, or at least migratory workers, from Haiti & Jamaica.

    The interesting feature is that up until 1959, Cuba was a popular destination for immigrants. After 1959, almost nobody moved to Cuba and about 20% of the population has left the island. Something about socialist utopias, I guess.

  • Thanks Griffin. My understanding is that the Government of Cuba had a policy of encouraging white immigration as they were concerned about the rising percentage of blacks. But, I’ll delve further and report if I find anything definite.

  • Hugh Thomas addresses that question in his fine history of Cuba.

    Certainly, life was much better for the most Cubans after independence, although far from perfect. The Cuban constitution was written by the US governor’s staff. It was not a bad constitution, far from it, as it defined the institutions, guaranteed rights and freedoms and described the election process. Compare that to the Spanish colonial era, when only Peninsulars (Spanish born Cubans) had the franchise to vote, and in Spanish election only, as none were held in Cuba. People born in Cuba had no right to vote and were barred from holding high public offices. Political offices in Cuba were filled by appointment from Spain. Not only was corruption present, it was an essential mechanism of the Spanish colonial system.

    Chronically short of capital investment during the Spanish era, independence saw a huge surge in capital investment from the US, as well as a smaller growth of Cuban owned capital investment. Economically, the standard of living grew considerably, even for the poorest segment of society, although there remained the rural poor comprising about one third of the population who lived in dirt floor shacks with no running water or electricity. Investment from the US greatly expanded employment, building modern railways, electrical systems, water & sewage treatment plants, a telephone system, as well as public education and healthcare systems (Yes, these existed prior to the revolution, although they were not as extensive. The rural poor rarely went to school and had to travel far to see a doctor). The economy was still heavily dominated by the sugar industry and price swings in that commodity affected Cuba greatly. Huge booms were followed by devastating busts.

    All this improved the lives of most Cubans, even while they resented the growing US influence. Cubans working for an American company were paid better than those working for a Cuban owned company, although as a Cuban they were paid less than an American in Cuba. US corporations owned a lot of Cuba, but not everything, as is often charged today. US capital investment often crowded out Cuban capital, although some Cuban industrialists did quite well, such as the “sugar king” Julio Lobo who was the largest sugar plantation owner in Cuba, and the Bacardi family which produced and marketed a quality product winning renown for Cuba around the world. Their rum empire was, and remains today, a 100% family owned business.

    Workers formed unions which gained strength and power, raising the wages of their members. The Havana Hilton Hotel was built by the pensions fund of a major Cuban union. (The Revolution seized control of this property when they forced all unions to join the one Party controlled workers union). About half of Cuban workers were not unionized and they were poorly paid while toiling in terrible conditions.

    The problem with the first Cuban constitution, aside from the fact the authors were American, is that the miasma of Spanish laws and precedence were not untangled. Courts and businesses still had to wrestle with a mixture of modern laws and contradictory Spanish traditions. As a result, corruption continued, in new forms, although for a while it was less than during the colonial era. Eventually the political corruption grew to monumental proportions.

    Immigration to Cuba soared during this period because Spain was stuck in recession for most of the first half of the 20th century. The loss of the Spanish empire hit the homeland hard. Immigrants came mostly from Spain & the Canary Islands, but cane workers from Jamaica & Haiti also arrived. The racial concerns existed, but the government was far too chaotic an institution to implement any kind of policy to deal with it. A large number of Cubans who had left for Florida during the war moved back to Cuba, seeking greater opportunity and the familiarity of their culture.

    The Constitution was updated in 1934, when Machado repealed the Platt Amendment, and again in 1940 when the Batista government passed a progressive “made in Cuba” constitution. Unfortunately, Batista failed to live by the constitution he helped to create. Fidel Castro made several pledges to restore the 1940 constitution and hold free & democratic elections. Both promises he would break as soon as he came to power.

    To summarize, the Cuban Republic was a vast improvement over the Spanish colonial era. However, significant problems persisted, such as political corruption, a growing US influence (political, economic & cultural), persistent poverty of about one third of the population, racism, and the over-reliance on the sugar economy.

  • Maybe it is the date when RafinSA purchased the 27% shareholding.

  • The history of revolution in Cuba is interesting with Agramonte, Marti and others fighting against the Spanish occupiers and the dreadful responses by the Spanish. A key question which I have not seen addressed, is whether life for Cubans was better or worse following the Spanish/American war.
    I have read the 1902 Constitution which resides in the former Governors House at Plaza d’Armas – and is in English not Spanish, but do not know whether in consequence the life of the Cuban people was better or worse.
    I do not seek a barrage of abuse by US citizens wishing to degrade their own country, we get that repeatedly in these pages, but a proper comparison between the two periods.
    Another interesting question is the recruitment of white immigrants by the Government of Cuba when it became concerned about the increasing percentage of blacks. How effective was it and how many whites immigrated as a consequence?

  • I have utilized the Cubacel double recharge every time it has come around, seemingly monthly, for the last several years. But I never associated it with a holiday.

    There seems to be a holiday just about every month and the double recharge period seems to come around just about every month. But I am not sure there is a connection between the two.

  • You exaggerate the extent and frequency of US military intervention in Cuba. The Platt Amendment granted the US the authority to intervene only under certain circumstances: if Cuban independence was threatened by another foreign power, if Cuban government failed and was unable to maintain peace, or if US owned property was threatened.

    As it happened, the US intervened only 3 times during the period between 1901 (when the Platt Amendment was signed) and 1934, when the Platt Amendment was repealed. After 1934, the US no longer had the legal right to intervene militarily in Cuba.

    In 1906-1909, the US Marines returned to bring the peace when a rebellion erupted between two rival Cuban political parties, the Conservatives and Liberals.

    In 1912, US troops arrived in Cuba to protect US owned mines during the Negro Rebellion. US troops were not involved in fighting the Negro rebels, except for one incident when a US mine was attacked by rebels, during the short exchange of gunfire nobody on either side was killed. Cuban troops eventually put down the negro rebellion.

    In 1917, the Liberal Party disputed the election which the Conservatives claimed to have won. A rebellion broke out, centered in the east which alarmed US sugar plantation owners. US troops arrived again, to protect US interests, while the Liberals & Conservatives fought it out. Eventually, the Liberals gave up their fight.

    In the early 1930’s, several leading Cuban opposition politicians called for the US military to intervene to help them expel the increasingly dictatorial Liberal President Machado. The US declined to involve themselves militarily in Cuban political infighting this time. As it happened, Machado repealed the Platt Amendment just to be sure.

    It is worth noting that in each of these three cases, the US military did not engage in military operations against Cuban citizens nor force a given government into power. They acted to protect US interests in the island. Certainly, that was an affront to Cuban sovereignty and the US troops were deeply resented by most Cubans. But it is an exaggeration & a distortion to repeat the falsehood that the US military intervened whenever they felt like it during the whole of the Republican era, and installed their chosen politicians into power in Havana. History tells a different story.

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