De-Generation, On the Occasion of Fidel Castro’s Birthday

Erasmo Calzadilla

Come to Varadero where there is plenty of money / The national anthem / I want to spend a million with you.

HAVANA TIMES — Today, I want to revisit another thorny issue in Cuba: the process of cultural and social degradation that continues to spread across our cities and countryside. I am not the only one who’s noticed it – it is a rather recurrent topic of discussion down here.

The system established by the Castros (which I do not want to call “socialist,” out of respect towards socialism) deeply eroded the social tapestry and highly rich cultural heritage of the nation, strongholds that not even wild capitalism had managed to tear down. Below are the blows which, from my point of view, caused the most damage:

  • The destruction of work as a livelihood, brought about by the measly salaries and a form of egalitarianism that rewarded the lazy.
  • The destruction of values, customs and traditional practices through the implementation of a modernist development model (industrial, intensive and nihilistic).
  • The destruction of political cultural and civil traditions through paternalism, a top-down administrative system, the prohibition of staging any kind of independent civic or economic activity (and meting out of punishment for those who dared do this) and the impossibility of participating in public affairs.
  • The destruction of the country’s cultural heritage, common sense and systems of belief through intensive brain-washing. The great ideologues of the regime (Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and others) spared no expense in this effort, which aimed to extirpate any residues of the old capitalist mode of production. That is how they sought to mold the New Man.

As a result of this, today we have a bleak social scenario characterized by: the profound atomization of society, a sterile civic and political environment, the cultural hegemony of the non-committed, alienated, political idiots or lumpen-proletariat (to use the Marxist jargon) and reggaeton musicians, reggaeton understood not as a voluptuous Caribbean rhythm that promotes carnal love but a narcissistic, individualistic, consumerist and violent attitude towards life.

Where is a nation like this heading? To a worse place, I can only assume.

In this cesspool, the Castros, the Communist Party, the new entrepreneurs and foreign capital can continue to turn the screws fearlessly, for the screw is going to continue to yield. It will be eons before a true workers’ movement, a popular protest movement or an uprising by angry people, arises in Cuba. Why? Because our sense of civic dignity, the people’s self-confidence, the capacity to organize in horizontal fashion and everything needed for a nation to set its foot down before its masters, was nipped at the bud.

How is all of this reflected in the daily lives of Cubans?

The daily life of humble folk has gradually become agonizing. Agonizing because the price of beans goes up every day and because of the breakdown of social norms. Anywhere you go, you have to deal with aggressors and con-artists of every sort.

Part of the violence and mistreatment endured by average Cubans comes from State officials, particularly those at the bottom. Bus drivers, store clerks, vendors at markets and cafeterias, health and education personnel, office workers who deal with the public and bosses at workplaces make up an army of shady characters who steal from us, trample on our rights and besmirch our dignity to the rhythm of reggaeton.

The worst part is that we’ve become used to this. Some (generally the old) see it as absurd and humiliating, and they endure it with the resignation of someone who suffers from a terminal disease. The new generations, however, accept it as part of the landscape, a landscape where the official (henchman of his own people) occupies a privileged position.

Today, the bulk of the ideological work isn’t carried out by boring and unappealing Party bureaucrats. The most effective ideological work is done by attractive and fashionable musicians. It’s no accident they fit so well into the system.

Reggaeton and salsa music play the important ideological role of showing us that “everything is A-Okay,” that we are happy here, that what we need to do is enjoy life. Indirectly, they look down on any reflective attitude or discontent with respect to daily reality, something that only “idiots” and losers do.

I would love to continue talking about these issues, but I’ve already gone on too long. I’ll spill my guts little by little.

Note: None of this contradicts the idea that the revolution was necessary and that Fidel Castro played a positive role at the beginning.

13 thoughts on “De-Generation, On the Occasion of Fidel Castro’s Birthday

  • I agree with your sentiment Caterina and also hope that it does not end up like the US. There are fortunately other alternatives and Americans would find it difficult if not impossible to destroy the unique culture that is Cuba.
    But, it is not necessary to continue to deny Cubans freedom to enjoy liberty and sufficient income to afford to shop and enjoy entertainment.
    At the moment there is a media created conception that change is taking place within Cuba. That myth is justified by comments about Havana.
    For Cubans, although they continue to have hope as they have for fifty six long dreary years of Socialismo, there is no change. The infrastructure of the country continues to deteriorate, the leaking public water supplies continue to run down the streets, the converted trucks which serve as buses continue to belch out black smoke, the schools and hospitals continue to crumble with broken door handles and windows. The daily endeavor to be able to feed the children has not changed.
    Raul Castro Ruz has made it abundantly clear that there will be no change within the administration responsible for the mess and that in selecting the next President Diaz-Canel, he chose one who would adhere to his communist views.
    Dictatorships are ugly and Cuba’s is no exception.

  • Wow! Of course I have little idea how life really is in Cuba but if you think social fabric has changed just wait until all the Americans arrive to exploit Cuba. I hate to think of Cubans becoming like our consumerist society raised on mindless shopping and endless entertainment. I am totally fascinated by Cuba and wish it would not end up like us.

  • American R& B is way better than reggaeton, but that’s just my opinion.

    However, here’s one good reggaeton number from the dissident Cuban band, Porno Para Ricardo: ESTE AÑO SI SE CAE”

  • I largely agree with your comment here.

    First of all, Erasmo’s essay is very good, pointing out how politics in Cuba has shaped social values, mostly for the worse.

    I disagree that the US won’t lift the embargo. It’s obvious that Obama and many of his backers want him to. There is opposition, but they will prove too disorganized to prevent it. Sooner or later, Obama will get congress to lift the embargo. That’s my prediction, anyway.

    I do agree with you that the US government today is not interested in encouraging any sort of democracy in Cuba (however one choses to define the concept, and let’s leave aside our argument on that point, shall we?)

    In his speech in December when he announced his new Cuba policy, Obama made noises about promoting democracy and human rights in Cuba. But he has done nothing to back up that talk. As we have seen, oppression of dissidents has only gotten worse. John Kerry won’t even bother to meet with Cuban dissidents today.

    To go by the evidence, the Cuban economy will remain in the hands of the regime monopolies, US business will get in on the action, US tourists will visit Varadero & and the Cuban people get nothing.

  • Why in my mid sleep paranoia do i even imagine you two are one and the same. I guess I need to go back to red wine vs. white!

  • That’s pretty week John, even for you. ….Presenting a false delegation and asking us to defend it.

  • Hahaha! Pitiful attempt at deflection.

  • Great story


  • You brought it up.
    Explain how free-enterprise capitalism, U.S. imperialism ( invasions) and the TRADITIONAL, HISTORIC patriarchal nuclear family are anything but top-down totalitarian entities.
    You talk democracy and walk totalitarianism .
    Is it hypocrisy or stupidity ?
    or both?

  • A good piece Erasmo.
    It seems to fairly reflects realistic societal concerns for Cubans.
    IMO , the future of Cuban society is in flux.
    IF normalization comes about quickly , there is a chance for democratic reforms.
    My guess is that the USG will open up travel to and from Cuba and have the Cuban society benefit in a small way .
    What I think they might NOT do is lift the embargo and then have the rising discontent as tourism creates haves and have-nots , finally cause the Cubans to rise up where all hardline tactics have failed in the past.
    As always, I would say that the institutionalization of democratic systems is what Cuba ( and the world) needs and that starts with the economy.
    Cuba also has that chance to bring in a democratic economy because the government is not owned by the big money people as it is in the U.S. and Cuba’s way is to provide the HEW benefits that a democratic socialist system does but within that totalitarian state capitalist framework.
    In Cuba , if you democratize the government, you can democratize the economy.
    We shall have to wait for normalization to see what evolves.

  • Very informative Erasmo. My father was born in Havana in 1935. He turned 80 yesterday. He left Cuba in 1970. I was born outside of Chicago in 1981. I’ve lived in New Hampshire for most of my life. Though very different are our social surroundings, I can easily understand the Abuse of Power on systematic levels, a the generational acceptance of born into social “norms” teamed with a (sub)conscious fear of alienation if you choose to speak ouf against said norms, the use of entertainment as a tool to forget about social immorality, and all other crimes that happen to the beautiful, but sinful, Human and the Societies we build.

    I enjoy the way you did not want to call the current system in Cuba “socialism” , out of respect to socialism….very funny, and true. It is the same feeling I get in respect to the word “christian” and those who choose to call themselves such, even though they blatantly speak and act in direct opposition to their belief’s true intentions. It is hypocrisy at its most destructive. When someone lives lavishly, or in some way, has a more privilaged life than the people they preach social and economic equality to, then it is not the idea of equality (socialism, christian) that fails, its the sinful human. Unfortunately, outside of possibly the current Pope, the landscape is full of false representations. You are hard pressed to find, in any country, a person who can truly live, and help lead others, to a peaceful and equal ends.

    The great thing Cuba has in its corner, is that it is an island. Though easy to control with negative intentions, perhaps it can find an easier path to complete social equality, at least easier than a larger population. With the right leader(s), maybe the willingness to be happy (despite its blindness), and the truly good hearts that exist there, will find themselves in a place that outshines other countries. Cubans passion for the arts, sport, and medical treatment, will be something that can carry them to a level that societies only dream of.

    The balance of equality and freedom is no easy task. With freedom comes the responsibility of making the right choices when your allowed to make wrong ones, and also making the right choices when no one is looking. Equality and goodness being the scale on which these choices should be made.

    I wish Cuba the best, and I hope her people will be at the forefront of a better world.

  • I am hopeful that the commenter Monseigneur Gomezz, who left Cuba 40 years ago, will comment on this post. His colorful interpretation of the Cuban reality well-described in Erasmo’s post promises to entertain. I enjoy reggaeton music, but I certainly can understand Erasmo’s criticism of it’s role in soothing Cuban angst. R&B music served the African-American community in the same way during the early civil rights movement in the US. I am anxious to read John Goodrich ‘ comment that blames this “de-generation” on his fantasy accounting of more than 108 US invasions of one place or another and father-led households. Erasmo has given his interpretation, as a Cuban living in Cuba, of what he believes has gone wrong in Cuba and offers his opinion as to why. I’m anxious to read how guy who hasn’t LIVED in Cuba for 40 years and another who has NEVER been there respond to this post.

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