Barrio Leaders & National Leaders

By Erasmo Calzadilla

Vedado is one of Havana’s most desirable places to live.
Vedado is one of Havana’s most desirable places to live.

I once wrote here that the government should make public the reasons why Felipe Perez Roque and Carlos Lage had been expelled from their positions (foreign minister and vice president), as the two younger political figures suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth.

Someone commented on my blog that with an empire breathing down our necks it was very naive to ask that all of the backroom political dealings be made public, thus giving the enemy more fuel to do greater damage.

A little while later I wrote that the Cuban press shouldn’t be singing the praises of a huge war plane as if it were an inoffensive scientific discovery, merely because it had been constructed by our allies the Russians. Several people then commented that it was naive not to differentiate between our declared enemies and those who aren’t our enemies even though both may be capitalist empires.

Based on such arguments of “realpolitik” it is surely equally naive to criticize any number of issues in Cuba that have nothing to do with socialism, such as the fact that the top leadership of the country live in privileged neighborhoods, at least here in the city of Havana where I am familiar.

A short time ago, purely by coincidence, I had the honor of visiting the home of one of those men. I could well appreciate the modesty and simplicity of this household that was nevertheless located in a complex of protected residencies, isolated from the rest of the city together with other families who enjoyed the same status.

Then there’s the Vedado neighborhood, formerly a residential zone of the Cuban middle class, now inhabited by top political and administrative leaders of the country. Living there a while back I could perceive a very notable difference when compared with the standard of living in the humble suburbs.

Apartment building in my neighborhood on the fringe of the city
Apartment building in my neighborhood on the fringe of the city

In my own neighborhood (El Electrico), where military officers reside, but not of such a high rank, it’s common that those who reach the category of Colonel, or who work their way into the centers of power for some other reason, are then relocated with their family to areas more suitable to their new status.

I repeat: I don’t believe that this phenomenon is anything similar to what happens in other parts of the world. We could even consider ourselves fortunate. However, it’s precisely a matter of assuring that Cuba never becomes like other parts of the world in this aspect.

The question takes on a special relevance in a system like ours where moral issues are promoted from above as a mechanism to put a brake on personal ambitions. It’s logical, then, to expect that this moral principal should function in the same way for everyone.

In addition, while the leaders are concentrated in residential zones, there are then wide expanses of territories dominated by local patriarchs and I think that many things would function better if the “big guys” and the “little guys” lived together.

For example, there would be a stricter and more direct social control exercised over those leaders that decided to line their pockets; there would be a better understanding in the upper circles of the problems faced by those below; and perhaps the marginal and crooked atmosphere that today dominates the neighborhood spirit, would be somewhat contained.

3 thoughts on “<em>Barrio Leaders & National Leaders</em>

  • James, the “capitalist” countries did not destroy the social goods of the former Eastern Bloc countries. What a baseless accusation. Not to minimize the difficulties the former Eastern Bloc countries faced in transitioning to a market economy, but any changes to social programs were made by those countries’ democratically elected governments. All Western European countries had vastly superior social safety nets compared to the former Eastern bloc countries at the time the Berlin Wall fell. Western Europe had an interest in seeing these new democracies succeed, not fail.

  • (continued from my earlier comment that got cut off, I was just going to end with) difficult. 🙂

  • Dialogue about what may or may not be unfair social, political or cultural practices is important. Yes parts of the US establishment are a threat, but that shouldn’t stop Cubans from discussing difficulties associated with privilege or any other issue. But, behavior that contributes to the greater good should be rewarded. It’s a difficult problem, because you only have to look at the history of the former Soviet block nations to see how quickly capitalist countries, particularly the US, are willing to exploit weakness and literally destroy the positive social goods those societies created. Does that justify preventing open debate? No, but creating a framework where it can take place without exploitation by foreign powers is very…

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