Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TIMES – Not too long ago, I went to visit the family of a friend who had passed away recently. From what I saw and was told, I concluded that life in our country’s countryside has changed greatly over the past 60 years, ever since the Revolution triumphed on January 1, 1959. So much so that the difference between countryside and city is now only ever so slight.
Where I was staying, there was an agricultural cooperative, where its members earn decent wages and share the gross profits at the end of the year; plus, a lot of the food that they eat is guaranteed.
The school where farmers’ children go has all of the conditions necessary to offer a high quality education, such as a computer, modern TV and VHS player. Plus, there is land around the school that allows children to play sports and do their physical education classes.
The health clinic was another thing that caught my attention, where there is a specialist doctor in comprehensive general medicine and a nurse.
In addition to this, the farm families homes are grouped into a community and most of them are made out of stone, with tin, tiled or fiber cement roofs and all of them have stone slab or cement floors. Cuban countryside homes don’t really have earthen floors anymore.
Seeing all of this reminded me of how the rural population living in this area and in all of Cuba used to live before 1959.
First of all, most farmers weren’t the owners of the land they worked, as these belonged to landowners who had large and medium-sized estates (who didn’t live in the countryside), or to US companies, who owned most of Cuba’s fertile lands at that time.
The majority of farmers used to live in shacks, architecture they inherited from the indigenous population, which consisted of a structure with thatched roofs made out of cane palm fronds and walls made out of fibers from the royal palm, with earthen floors.
Farmers who leased a medium or large estate used to build their homes with better materials, normally wood, although they still had thatched roofs and earthen floors. However, those who were only farm labor had to build their shack in any empty space, next to any path or road, so they wouldn’t have to pay for the land, as they only earned enough to eat poorly.
Evictions of farmers became notorious in Cuba, as when a landowner or leaseholder got annoyed with having someone living on their bit of land, they kicked them out and if they resisted, then they would call the Rural Guard to kick them out and send them on their way, and they even burned their shacks down a lot of the time.
The job situation for those who didn’t have any land was very precarious, because leaseholders or estate owners used to pay very little and sometimes with payment in kind because there wasn’t any certainty that harvests would sell and sometimes, they had to lower prices a great deal to sell them because it was cheaper for storekeepers to buy imported produce from the US.
There weren’t enough schools in the countryside and illiteracy was over 60%. There weren’t doctors either and when anybody got sick, they had to travel several kilometers, sometimes dozens, to see a doctor; and if the illness required hospital treatment, they had to get a letter from a politician, who they had to promise their and their family’s vote to in the next elections. Many people tried to get better using herbal medicine and died without being able to see a doctor, which meant that life expectancy back then wasn’t even 60 years of age, when today it is nearly 80 years. Meanwhile, infant mortality rates were 60 per 1000 live births, but now there are only 4.
This entire situation, which forms part of Cuba’s past, continues to be the present in the majority of Latin American countries and in other underdeveloped countries across the world.
It is hard to describe the poverty, the hunger, the insalubrity and helplessless that existed at that time in Cuba’s countryside in this short article, if we can really call that life.