Life in Cuba’s Countryside

Elio Delgado Legon

The Cuban countryside.

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.

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Elio Delgado Legon

Elio Delgado-Legon: I am a Cuban who has lived for 80 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.

Elio Delgado Legon has 246 posts and counting. See all posts by Elio Delgado Legon

10 thoughts on “Life in Cuba’s Countryside

  • Someone with a clear head

  • a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life!? Are you kidding me? Do you think the government of Cuba struggles everyday to make a living? Do they live in deplorable conditions like the rest of the population? They keep everyone living like peasants while they live like kings.

  • Your reflections of life in 1959 bears examining. The advances in Cuba are not significant when compared with many other countries. What is significant is the lack of political pluarality. Cuba was richer than many countries prior to 1959. It failed to develope because of the lack of freedom.
    Life expectancy was low in Canada prior to Universal Health Care, education reform, labour reform, gouvernment supporting business, hydro power, etc.
    I can go on and on with examples of other countries.
    There is no embargo with trade to Europe and Canada. etc etc etc etc

  • Elio is normally at his best ( the bar is not terribly high) when he waxes nostalgic about pre-Castro revolution Cuba. Because he has never left the island, his information about the rest of the world is limited to his socialist-minded and Cuba-biased information he has received from his minders, those whose business it is to develop Castro propaganda. As a result, his reflections are always Cuba-good, rest of the world-bad. This post reflects his tired and time-worn biases. He writes, “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.” There remains lingering bitter poverty in much of Latin America but Cuba is hardly the exception. In fact, the only tangible difference between poor people in Cuba and elsewhere in Latin America is the, albeit decreasing, lack of street crime. While poor El Salvadorans are burdened with a crippling gang problem which simply does not exist in Cuba, they enjoy civil liberties that are have been unseen in Cuba for 60 years. What Elio writes about may have been true as recent as 30 years ago. But since that time, poverty in Cuba, since the Special Period (break-up of the Soviet Bloc) has been as bad in Cuba as anywhere else in Latin America. Indeed, the only benefit of living in a police state like Cuba, is the lessened street crime. Cubans living in Cuba say that even this benefit exists less and less these days.

  • There are many valid criticisms that can be made of Cuba’s political and economic system.
    But … just because some things need fixing, doesn’t mean everything does. Just because bad things have happened in Cuba, doesn’t mean no good things have happened as well.
    We have to hope that Cuba will move forward, becoming more open and democratic, without losing the undoubted gains of the Cuban Revolution.
    It is good for Sr. Delgado-Legon to report on them here.

  • I really enjoy reading you Mr. Delgado-Legon. I have read many of your articles including various opinions & comments. I am happy to observe your passion, your wisdom and your knowledge and look forward to reading many more of your reflections and experiences. Thank you Sir for sharing. In appreciation,

  • Tu tienes que ser socialista arrepentido para hacer esa comparacion..camina a otros pueblos y veras..camina la habana y veras la destruccion…ciego…chamesly.

  • The obstacle is it’s an undemocratic, unbending tyranny.
    Western countries are liberal democracies which have better living standards, quality of life and free speech.

  • Are you a member of any Cuban Socialist organization?.
    Does Cuba have CDR in the rural communities just like they have them in the cities?

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