Rebuilding Cubans’ Self-Esteem

Erasmo Calzadilla

A Soviet bulldozer.

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba is suffering a moral and civil crisis. I’m not the only one who says so – it is an issue much talked-about here.

One would expect to find an abundance of wisdom and prudence in a country that’s aging at such an alarming rate. However, the common sense shown by Cubans resembles the mentality of a teenager with antisocial personality disorder* (characterized by selfishness, hedonism, aggressiveness and irresponsibility) more and more every day. The prevailing values today are a mix of the worst taught us by the “great leader” and those popularized by the salsa band Charanga Habanera.

How did we get here? It’s a long story. The last half century, with its deadly combination of paternalism, dictatorship and frustrated development policies, led to a kind of anomy, a country where everything goes. The process did away with nearly all of our ancestral wisdom, stifled the political maturity we had achieved, seriously damaged the social ecosystem and snuffed out our civic culture. This is often referred to as “anthropological damage.”

I write this with a kind of discursive distance, but I experience it as a daily malaise and estrangement. This is because I cannot get used to the disorderly laxness that produces so much anger and frustration about us, because I resent that mistreatment and violence (which is keeping a low profile, for now) that has become the habitual way of solving problems, because it pains me to see people so isolated and with so little faith in themselves and because I suspect we are heading towards a more delicate situation.

What can we, the unsatisfied and disaffected, do? Leave? Lock ourselves up somewhere? Hide? That’s what we’ve been doing all along, to our own and the tyrants’ benefit. They would rather deal with the rabble – and keep the people in that degenerate state – than confront a vigorous and conscious civil movement.

Sprouts. Photo:

Cuba needs many things. If I had to mention one, I would say we need to rediscover our dignity and self-confidence. It seems like a pipe-dream right now, but the storm is coming, and storms tend to bring surprises along with them.

We need a color revolution, a movement of angered citizens, another generation inspired by Jose Marti, any event that will remind us of the intoxicating taste of rebellion and popular power. It would be a first step, the hardest, perhaps.

We need to learn to rebel against the mechanisms that turn us into second or third-rate citizens. Not at the public square – regrettably, that’s still too big a step for us. We need to do this in the classrooms, at work, at the market, on our block, in the bus, before the official or manager who mistreats us and steals from us every day.

We need vigorous, non-violent resistance, to demand our rights by appealing to the best in us and the person we demand them from. This may not be enough to do away with exploitation, but it will make us worthier in our own eyes. We will then see what comes next.

NOTE: The antisocial personality disorder doesn’t exactly match the psychological characteristics that thrive in Cuban society today. For instance, it describes something altogether different when it suggests that:

“(…) this syndrome is characterized by a peculiar propensity for isolation (…) this behavior is evident in how reserved and introverted an individual can become within society and among those who surround him. According to studies, these individuals suffer society’s criticisms, rejection or contempt. The discomfort leads to a self-defense mechanism designed to avoid such difficulties, and these individuals thus face problems establishing interpersonal relations.”

Psychology must have a name to describe this antisocial/hyper-social “anomaly” typical of Cuba’s humble neighborhoods, at least to apply to this corner of the world alone.

3 thoughts on “Rebuilding Cubans’ Self-Esteem

  • Erasmo,I Google this topic today,surprised to find your article.Im a Cuban born and raised,living in the United States.Recently moved to Miami,and to my surprise,have encounter,the same antisocial personality disorder afflicted individuals you describe.In very large numbers.Like you, I hate we have lost ourselves,because of the Revolution,we need our sanity back.Yes..Look closely around the world poverty is at the root. Bad governments are the cause. Taking God out of schools,and out of our country,one idea.I was lucky like you,to be raised by my grandmother born in 1928,blessed with a,beautiful heart and mind. Who coded in me the values sacred to any healthy society,and I have passed down to my children.Change start in the heart and minds,like you say make it an everyday topic,everywhere. A movement to rescue,the best and most valuable things we are. In every classroom, teachers nationwide committed,and parents that be hungry for that same goal,for their children.Is my dream,of a Cuba like I grew up in.For generations to come.Maybe I’m just dreaming. God bless you,keep writing.

  • What a great article – your feelings are discernable in your words ! I love your statement “to demand our rights by appealing to the best in us and the personh we demand them from”. That’s true for all of us whereever we may live.

  • Erasmo, I don’t know about anyone else but I could feel your words. I commented before, in essence, I have heat in my home, a large Apple computer, refrigerator stocked with food and work to pay for all this in the morning. I can’t even imagine what’s it’s like living the way you describe. I also will not pontificate telling anyone how to adjust their lives or system of governments. You have much to share and when change comes should be at the forefront in generating ideas and possible solutions. One day at a time. Never fail to read your posts, thank you again and if I ever get to Cuba would love to meet up with you and many others on this site. Gracias!

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