Tossing Out Ideas

By Esteban Diaz

HAVANA WALL, photo: Janis Wilkins
HAVANA WALL, photo: Janis Wilkins

Coming to Cuba fulfilled one of my greatest aspirations. Getting to know one of the countries that calls itself “socialist” represented an opportunity that I could not pass up; there would be no better way of understanding that reality than to live it.

Very excited about getting to know Cuba close up, the first thing I did was to compare it to my country and its social system.

Here, I witnessed free and preventive health care, along with an education system that provides books, housing, uniforms, food, study accessories, etc.; the mass mobilizations in support to the government’s slogans; the very low, almost nonexistent incidence of violence in the streets; people’s kindness and cooperation; the theaters, museums, cinemas and diverse centers of entertainment that one is able to find at such very low prices-all of this.

As I compared it to my country, which hardly offers anything to the great majority of people, I can unconsciously understand anyone in favor of this revolution without looking at its errors. I was not an exception, for the first years I too got things fairly confused.

Having greater contact with Cubans over the course of these six years changed my vision of things. Today Cuba appears to me as a country that began a social revolution and that has maintained it in one way or another during the different stages it has passed through.

The low level of industrial development with its consequent economic backwardness, the high degree of illiteracy and the adverse international circumstances that confronted the revolution since its beginning conditioned the formation of a relatively comfortable social group: the bureaucracy. This began to manifest itself intensely in the 1970s, trampling over the intellectuals especially, as this group rejected anything that did not represent “real socialism,” a concept dragged from Russia along with all its Stalinist ideals.

Discrimination was practiced against homosexuals. People were fired from their jobs for not agreeing with the revolution 100 percent or for having some point of view different from the leaders. Listening to music in English was forbidden since it was, for them, “ideological diversion” that threatened the revolution.

People who had religious beliefs were discriminated against, while communist magazines and newspapers that had dissimilar points of view were shut down (for example: “Pensamiento Critico” [Critical Thought]).

The bits of information that I have collected from ordinary workers and professionals, as well as from newspaper articles and documents, confirmed to me that the Cuban bureaucracy did not emerge in the 1990s, as certain Cuban Communist Party activists proclaim.

I have read speeches by Raúl and Fidel Castro from the mid-1990s on that refer to the need to combat bureaucracy in Cuba, since it can reverse the revolution. They invited the masses to participate in open discussions that would contribute to decision-making and to solving the country’s problems.

It all sounded quite beautiful, but the reality is that these words are static, since they do not actively promote popular participation.

Although great achievements have been reached in these 50 years of revolution, in the streets I observe and hear dissatisfaction with the bureaucracy.