My Mother’s Friend

Irina Echarry

Butcher at a Havana market. Photo: Caridad

My mother has a friend in the neighborhood, which isn’t an extraordinary place, though we’ve lived in the same house for years.  Her friend Jorgito doesn’t live on our block; he doesn’t even live here in the Alamar community, which is to say he’s not a neighborhood resident.  Jorgito is the butcher who was assigned to our area.  He’s in charge of distributing —at his whim— what little is sent here from the slaughterhouse.

People speak marvels about his polite ways, his pleasant manners and how quickly he attends to his customers.  When meat products are delivered, he immediately goes at it, often working into the night.  He’s always in a good mood, and when my mother comes home late or she’s unable to buy something in time (the meat goes bad after three days) he’ll get back to work at any time of the day or evening.  He sometimes even gives her some of the meat when they deliver the second “batch” of the product.

How did that friendship arise?  He lives near where she works and would stop by to see her with his wife and son; he would bring her snacks.  At the last Havana book fair, my mother had to help out with sales at a stand from her job.  Jorgito accidentally happened by and saw the conditions under which she had to spend the whole afternoon (out in the sun, without any water to drink and food selling at high prices).  He therefore bought her something to eat along with a soda.  The other people with her only ate one bread roll each.

What’ the problem?

Seemingly there’s no problem.  The friendship is always well received, though my mother can’t reciprocate her friend’s generosity.  She’s a simple journalist who barely lives off her wage.

When she found out that the butcher’s wife was pregnant, my mother was at least able to give her a book she wrote on how to responsibly care for newborns.  It can drive you batty trying to think of what to give a person who has a new gold chain around their neck every day, who gets around on a motorcycle, who has the pockets full of money and who isn’t is lover of reading or of impractical details.

As for me, I don’t know to what extent to consider him a “good person,” like other people do – though I don’t find him unpleasant.  After all, his good fame and high standard of living take a toll on our rations, which he skims off the top from all of us.

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Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

Irina Echarry has 232 posts and counting. See all posts by Irina Echarry

15 thoughts on “My Mother’s Friend

  • Grady

    “well-meaning, state monopoly socialist party”

    Again you also seem lock into believing that those in power in Cuba mean well for the people.

    Will they mean well while they charge 230 percent tax on everything Cubans consume?
    Will they mean well when many go hungry while they eat in luxury?
    Will they mean well when the medical services and education they promise go unfulfilled and are substandard and theirs is the best possible?
    Will they mean well when their system is full of corruption and above critical reach?
    Will they mean well when they oppress those that feel the heavy weight of their power?
    Will they mean well when they use their power to prohibit entry and exit from Cuba of Cubans?

    Will they mean well when they suppress freedom?

    I think also that you guys are blinded. Just because this group of people call themselves socialist.
    If they were really for the people and people were really in charge then none of the above will be happening.

    Let us forget for a moment about capitalism or socialism.

    If I was to describe to you a country with the faults we read about Cuba common sense should tell you that those who govern such country are a bad government. Given all that I have mentioned above.
    We have witness how they treat those that dare think different.
    You can not govern people by imposition , by force , by oppression and by fear and specially you can not govern without the consent of the people.

    If people in Cuba are not able to exit and enter freely from their homeland is not that equivalent to the state claiming ownership on them?

    If a paternalistic state makes all the important decisions for them and they have a restricted and limited free will by the power of the state is not the state taking away their liberty and enslaving them?

    Are they not punished harshly if they do not agree and comply with the will of those in power?

    It seems to me the similarities with slavery are too great to be overlook.

    I believe you guys will care more for the people of Cuba and not for those tyrants in power. Call them whatever. They have call themselves communist. But I do not believe it. Because their actions show something different from what I learn in the books. They proved with their actions that they do not care for the people.

    What they care about is power. To continue to hold power. The power that really belongs to the people.

    It has been too many years of propaganda from them to overcome.
    See the facts. read the facts in the alternative writing by Cubans. See reality not thru the eyes of those that hold power but the ones at the bottom. Those that have no voice. Those that are oppress. If you guys are truly for the people. That is the place where you should look at.

    I was there at the bottom and I know. What drives me to write is those many voiceless people that can’t speak because they may loose a job, or because they are in fear. Some of you take for granted that is ok for people to have opinions and to even be divergent with your own government opinion and find it normal. But is not so in Cuba.

    It may take time and I am not asking you to side with anybody other than the Cuban people. Those at the bottom that are exploited more than anyone else those that are asked to sacrifice more every day who are the majority of Cubans. Those who earn so little and from whom the state takes so much.

    Grady, a society that charges 230% implicit or explicit tax is exploitative. Be capitalism or even if those in power called it socialism. See the facts. See the actions. Not what they have called themselves or what they have said. Actions is what define them. Add to this also the fact that their salaries are so small. The great majority of them does not even reach 20 dollars a month. How could this government be for them?

    They have sentenced the Cuban people to a life of poverty while they and those that support them live in relative luxury compare to the rest. Again see the facts.It may take time but I know you will understand. I have faith.

  • Julio, you bounce around and break furniture because you are emotionally upset over the well-meaning, state monopoly socialist party that has been at the helm as Cuba has descended into economic paralysis. You are so upset emotionally that you can’t hear what others are saying and therefore cannot carry on a constructive, back and forth conversation. In other words, you’ve made up your mind as to what is what, and now its time to hammer your opinions into the heads of anyone who will listen.

    I told your simply that “slavery” is a historic stage of society in which the “body” of the worker is owned as property. The produce of the labor of the worker therefore belongs to the person who legally owns the worker’s body. Did you listen? Did you hear? Apparently not. You come back with your preconceived epithet that this is slavery and that is slavery. Stop this nonsense and get a grip on yourself.

    Cubans are not slaves. Cubans are not serfs. Cubans are working people who give their labor to the socialist state and produce surplus-value, yet get only a small portion of this surplus-value in their paychecks.

    Not having much of a share of the surplus-value they produce, they become demoralized and their productivity declines. This impoverishes the nation more and more.

    Also, by not having much of the surplus-value they produce in hand for purchasing things at the community and consumption levels, the entire society shrivels up and quality of life declines.

    You have an opportunity to clarify your thoughts on all this, but you’ve got to settle down and concentrate on analysis and reasoning. Cubans are neither slaves nor serfs. They are working people who are caught up in an erroneous concept of workable socialism. You task as a patriot is to help your country of origin to make Cuban socialism develop a correct, workable economic mechanism.

    Capitalist enterprise is not the answer. Cooperative corporate enterprise is the answer, as proved by the workers of Mondragon, Spain. You do well to go to com and review the films The Mondragon Experiment and Democracy in the Workplace. Cheers.

  • Luis, just because in other places there is equal or worst forms of slavery it does not diminish the fact that there is slavery in Cuba. By those that were suppose to release the workers from the chains!

    Reinaldo Arenas the cuban writer wrote

    “The difference between capitalism and socialism is that in both they kick your ass but at least in capitalism you have the opportunity to protest about the blows but in socialism is not only not allowed to protest but you also have to pretend you like it.”

    Some how I was expecting solidarity of you people with the suffering of the Cuban people and all I seem to see is that you guys pledge blind solidarity to the oppressor of the Cuban people! You guys keep taking sides with the wrong group.
    It is time for you guys to open up and see the reality that Cubans live. Are you guys reading the post posted here at havana times and other blogs like generation y , octavo cerco and on and on? Reading all this alternative sources do paint a very different picture from the rosy reality that the Cuban regime portraits on their own media.

  • Grady is right, Julio hasn’t the slightest idea of what modern slavery is like. He should take a look at sugar cane plantations and coal production in South America to find it, instead of Cuba.

  • Grady
    We do keep going back and forth about the issues of Cuba. I see this discussions as a positive thing I hope you also do. Thru the exchange I hope we many others that are not familiar at all or just barely familiar will be able to gain inside into to the topics we talk about.
    Very sorry you can not see first hand what I describe. Nothing like first hand experience. It would be even better if you could take a “working vacation” were you could live as a Cuban with a cuban family, eat and work as a Cuban and not on a tourist trip. But it seems that will be even harder to do but not impossible. Some people have already done such thing!

    “You say “SLAVERY” with a straight face and haven’t the slightest sense that you’re speaking absurdly.”
    Grady, I think you will agree with me that when Capitalism replaced the prior economical system in place it did so because it was a better system. The prior system with the Feudal lords and slavery in place in many places.
    It is easy to see why Capitalism is better than those other systems. The centralization that happens on the Feudal system and the lack of interest that slavery produced on the slaves themselves. They even if mistreated will not really care to produce more. No matter. Because their live will have no real change anyways. Because there is no sense of gaining anything from labor.
    All of these things that I have describe as true for the Feudal and Slavery system are also quite true for the Cuban system! Futhermore the state seems to have some sort of ownership over one of the important human rights that one that allows you to exit or enter your own country! and if we add to this that most important decision iin your lives are decided by a bureaucratic leadership that cares little about the people but just for themselves. I hope you would grant me that there is very strong similarities with SLAVERY.
    We may be able to call it a neo-slavery. I think this is the main reason for the failure of their economical system. They thought they were building communism or socialism but they end up in slavery!
    Do you know that Cuban doctors that go to venezuela for example are paid a salary in CUC that is deposited in some bank account on Cuba but that they later are prohibited from using that money? They can not take out large quantities of that money they properly earn! I tell you Grady. You do believe that socialism is for the better of the people because as you have mentioned the objective is to eliminate this exploitation and stealing going on where the capitalist takes the surplus for himself.
    But do you prefer then a state that steal from the very workers it supposed to defend?
    Would you believe in a party call PCC or whatever else that has such behavior?

    Now let me go back to “state monopoly socialism” versus “state monopoly capitalism”
    My main reason why I called capitalism is because they are still making a huge surplus on everything they sell. Their type of monopolist is actually thousands of times worst than a monopolist that can occur in our society. Let me explain why so.
    When monopoly occurs in our society it is usually concentrated on one industry. This is as we know a bad thing for all of us. We will have only one choice and no competing products to choose from. But in their case monopoly is not even executed by one person but by the state and it extends to all branches of the economy. Now you can see that this type of monopoly is way worst than any other that could be potentially form here.
    Finally with this definition of socialism I can write a few more things “Cuba is socialist not because it has a functional, cooperative economy, but because the PCC–such as it is–is still in power.”
    With the experience I have from Cuba. I tell you that the PCC is not in power.
    Let me defined what I believe the PCC being in power means to me.
    It means that the leadership of the party will consult with every member of the party and when any decision is taken it will be a democratic one counting on the vote of every member of the party.
    I tell you I know for fact this does not happen in the PCC. What really happens is that the leaders convince the rest of what needs to be done. It is just the same way Erasmo has described how they are supposed to convince the people of why they do the things they do. So as such then Cuba is not socialist. Is more Fidelist or Raulist.
    I agree with you that me calling it capitalism is not accurate. Because it only describes part of the reality I observed. We also know it is not socialism.
    So we need to maybe create a new name for this type of society.
    They have given themselves the name of socialist but we know that that is something they are not. Believe me I am not trying to defend socialism here from the bad name of being associated with such monstrosity.

  • Julio: I just got back from a quickie weekend family vacation, so haven’t been able to respond until now.

    Whew! You tend to throw so much stuff out there that it’s difficult to answer anything.

    You continue to describe the absurd bureaucratic behavior of the PCC to me, as though I don’t already have a pretty good idea of the absurdity in question. Please save it for those who might need it.

    I’d love to visit Cuba, but I’m a worker and don’t have the money to travel to all the places that I’d like, including Cuba. I have one kid in college and one on the way there, so my money is pretty well spoken for. But really, Julio, I don’t need to go to Cuba to see absurdity and injustice. There’s plenty here in the US, and I could justly rant and rave about it at great length, if I were so inclined.

    You throw a lot of words and phrases around that are highly emotional, but lack real substance. You say “SLAVERY” with a straight face and haven’t the slightest sense that you’re speaking absurdly.

    You classify the Cuban state monopoly socialist system as “state monopoly capitalist,” and do not realize that you’re singing basically the same tune as the ultra-left sectarians, including the Trotskyist state monopolists.

    It seems that no matter what I say you will respond with 47 salvos of invective against the Cuban bureaucratic system. But let me try once more. Please take off your self-righteous capitalist strutting hat and put on your thinking cap.

    (1) Slavery is a system in which the bodies of workers are legally owned. If you lay that label on socialist Cuba, you only make yourself look uneducated.

    (2) Cuba is not “state monopoly capitalist,” as you say. I’ve explained it before and will do so again briefly. Monopoly capitalism is an economic and social system that “works.” It works mainly for the benefit of the monopoly capitalist bankers, landlords, industrial and commerical capitalists and the military industrial capitalists, but god-dammit it works. It it utterly evil, brutal, destructive and immoral, but it works. The Cuban system does not work.

    Do you get it? The Cuban system, like the old Soviet system, does not work. It doesn’t work because the individual leaders of enterprise cannot and do not own productive property directly and cannot organize production in a sensible, business-like, profit-oriented way. It is not therefore capitalist.

    If it were capitalist it would function much more dynamically than it does today. But it doesn’t and it can’t. It can’t because it is state monopoly socialist, and this is a fundamentally unnatural economic system. The only reason it can be termed “socialist” is because a socialist political party has state power, and if this party were to come to its senses and scuttle the stupid state monopoly principle that is killing the development of a socialist economy, workable socialist would blossom like a rose!

    Cuba is socialist not because it has a functional, cooperative economy, but because the PCC–such as it is–is still in power. Time will tell if this state power can be saved by the forthcoming reforms do any good.

    All your boasting about capitalism being so wonderful and the capitalist so necessary is nonsense. If you don’t know this already, I would be wasting time trying to explain it.

    I’m tired after a long, long drive and it’s late at night. Good night and cheers.

  • I do not know if you all noticed how the leadership in Cuba has already given them the scrip to the other members of what is the act of the play they are going to play now!

    They are already telling how far they are willing to go for now on that document they just published.
    See the behavior. Dictating from above(with script included). Any one from below can not dare to suggest.
    I know that they have claim that they will analyze suggestions coming from the people and this is to give some legitimacy to their positions. But the reality is that the few at the top are making the decisions here for every one else. Whatever changes they make to the system will be the ones that benefit them above all.
    Keeping them in power. Never mind that the social catastrophe that is the Cuban revolution is all their own fault.
    Why can we choose other people with better solutions? with different solutions to the problem of Cuba?
    That is when freedom comes in to play.
    They eliminated Freedom.
    What Cuba has now is a consequence of this unjust and despotic act.

  • Grady, I think you will benefit a lot by taking a vacation to Cuba. See the end result of the 50 years old experiment called the Cuban revolution. I think you already agree with me that the end result is a dystopian society very far from what they set as a goal.

    Will people be allowed to own enterprises for which they do not work on your model?
    If so then it is very close to the model we already have with the exception that people are not required in the current US model to own enterprise while many do thru their retirement plans.
    It seems to me it is safer for the individual to have a diversified ownership so as not to put all eggs on one basket. Same as what we now know as Mutual funds. But the more a person invest outside his own enterprise (the one he works for) means his interest on the success of such enterprise is only in order to secure his job or maybe just for the pleasure of doing what he does.
    Actually George back them specifically said that your system was to allow only cooperative form of work and nothing else. It seems to me then that there was no real reason or justification to prohibit any other form if people do choose to use them so that is why I asked the question.
    I do know for fact that monopoly is a bad thing so do the majority of people. That is the real thing we should avoid at all cost. That is what I experienced in Cuba. I will not called as you did below
    “State monopoly socialism” since it is an exploitative society where profits are made by the state who becomes the capitalist taking ownership of all the surpluses. So I did call it back them “state monopoly capitalism”. That explains my prior question about a clear definition of what defines socialism.
    So as such no socialism has ever existed nor do I believe possible.
    What they have call socialism so far seems to be going back to the Feudal ideas of monarchy. That is exactly what they have in Cuba and there are good similarities with that older economic form. Also I see many similarities with slavery. Since people are paid so little. Somehow they were counting on this so call “new man” and this other mythical “social consciousness” to take over and get people to think for others and not for themselves. Curiously I think they have obtained the total opposite of what they were trying to do. People did become more selfish and more interested in themselves because it is a problem of survival for them. That explains the total corruption in society.
    Let me play a bit here with other ideas thinking about the near future (next 20 to 100 years from now). Suppose that we find very efficient way to produce energy. That is virtually free. Suppose also that we are able to create anything in our own homes. For example like you download a program and set of nano machines can build whatever you want. All you really need is the energy the raw material and the software to build anything you can dream of.
    The energy is virtually free the nano machines could also be virtually free and the only required difficult step will be the software for the thing you want! Many we will be able to design themselves.
    So going on that scenario it is likely that the future will render any economical activity almost totally moot. This is the very likely the scenario of the near future of the world.

    “It doesn’t suppress private ownership of enterprise legally, but helps the working people to displace the capitalist mode of production by out-competing it in the marketplace.”
    I think that will be impossible to do. I think the capitalist is needed. There is a function for a capitalist. He takes risks with capital in the hopes of making his capital grow. Something a group of people will be more conservative and less likely to do. I could give many more reasons to explain why capitalist are needed. But I think that one is a major one.
    I actually see capitalist in a different light. They take risks with their capital in order to produce more capital and sometimes in order to create and follow unexplored ideas. For example look at Virgin galactic. First private space company. They may very well be the ones to advance space travel and make it affordable for the rest of us. Space travel soon may not be the domain of the well to do governments of the world! And all thanks to very brilliant people with capital investment (Sir Richard Branson)
    I could quote many examples like those. Is capitalism exploitative? Yes. If one compares it to a system like Cuba where doctors are paid about 20 dollars a month then please tell me who is exploiting who again? They asked to sacrifice and to produce more and more but the state is cutting more and more on their “benefits”! Is that exploitation? No, I think is got a different name -SLAVERY.
    That explains why productivity is so low. Why they have to asked people to work harder etc etc. See the similarities with slavery? I wish you could visit and see with your own eyes.
    Grady, I already mentioned what I am for.
    Humans are meant to be free. Totalitarian governments like that of Cuba will disappear because they are against human natural nature. I love my adoptive country because it has given me the freedom I never had. I have being extremely fortunate to live in Cuba and to also be able to live in the US.
    I love both! I wish Cubans will enjoy soon the same freedoms I have. Cuba will become a wonderful place that day. It is time to stop following the personal whims of two of three people in power and allow the Cuban people to be in command of their own future.

  • Julio: Thanks for your reply. It’s a pleasure to exchange with a sincere person who is trying to use both his head and his heart patriotically. Let’s look at your first question (as I understand it): “Why would a modern cooperative republic prohibit private capitalists from exercising the economic freedom to own and develop their own enterprises?”

    The simple answer is that such a republic would not prohibit it.

    As you sense it, it would be illogical for individuals to be prohibited from private enterprise while “requiring” cooperativization on everyone and everything else. So, basically, you seem to misapprehend what our movement is advocating. But a clarification is fairly easy.

    Under a socialist cooperative republic–whether in Cuba, the US, or anywhere else–the political state would diminish monopoly capitalist enterprise, but not primarily by legal suppression. This democratic state would, according to a democratically and scientifically evolved National Plan, assist all people who do the work of society to own the enterprises where they work.

    Most major enterprises would soon become employee-owned cooperative corporations, but many–especially rural and service sector enterprises–could and probably would be privately owned.

    Your second question or argument is a bit too complex for this reply, but let me say a few words.

    “Capitalism” is not quite what you believe it to be. It is really the “ranching” of those who work by those who own “capital.”

    That is, it is different from chattel slavery–where the bodies of workers are legally owned–and feudal serfdom–where the labor of these bodies is controlled by their being legally tied to the feudal land.

    In the third major stage of human civilization, that of capitalism, the labor of the bodies of workers is controlled by private individuals owning the instruments of production the workers must use in order to produce, survive and procreate. Workers are commodities on a market where their labor and all it produces is appropriated by those who hire them through wages and salaries.

    Socialism–and I’m talking about real socialism, not the state monopoly monster we both despise–merely assists those who do society’s work to own the instruments they use to do that work. It doesn’t suppress private ownership of enterprise legally, but helps the working people to displace the capitalist mode of production by out-competing it in the marketplace.

    Real socialism has no grudge against persons having wealth. It respects and values those who do and hopes to bring the treasures of elite culture to all the people. It does have a grudge however against persons stealing the value produced by others, and relegating the exploited masses to social inferiority and all sorts of humiliation and degradation.

    I think you have a socialist heart, Julio, but that you’ve been burned so badly by dysfunctional state monopoly that you have misconstrued “capitalism” as the basis of economic, political and social freedom. Capitalism is not what you apparently think it is. It is a militaristic, non-spiritual, monopolistic monster ten-times worst than monopoly socialism, and it is about to destroy the world environment and perhaps bring about a final nuclear world war.

  • Another important outstanding question is this

    There is basically two solutions as far as I understand on how to deal with the distribution of a scarce resource.
    Understand by scarce resource anything that we all want and that is not possible for all of us to have.

    * The capitalist solution is to put a high price making it not accessible to a great majority.
    * The solution I witness in Cuba is for the top leadership control and manage the scarce resource using it as incentive for those that support them in power. As I explained before this is a mafia like behavior that maybe one of the causes of the corruption in Cuba’s society.

    It seems to me that the capitalist method of distribution is superior.
    From the economical point of view it does incentive people to produce more of that product that is valuable.
    While in the stalisnism of Cuba the reverse is true.

  • Sorry hit the enter before finishing

    Here is the rest..

    By economical freedom I mean that people should be able to organize themselves in any economic form that they like to. Without any interference from the state. So if some people wish to form a cooperative of workers as the one you propose they should be allow to do so, if some others would like to work for some group of capitalist they should do so. And so on. The freedom comes from the personal decision that each individual wants to take and the state should not force the hand of the people and allow them to make their own choices.
    It seems to me that a system with such economical freedoms is superior to any that restricts people to one particular economical form. This was exactly what you and George proposed. The cooperative and prohibit the other economical forms. So my question was Why? Why does your system needs to eliminate the economical freedom and let people choose what is best for them on their own?
    As I was explaining back them. Any restrictions on economical freedom leads to restrictions on the political realm. Therefore hampering freedom.
    I will love to listen to your answer.

  • Grady I am glad I can be of help. There is a question I have asked before to you and George a while back and I have not gotten an answer.
    Back them I was explaining that freedom should be the guiding principle for any society. When I said freedom I was meaning political and economical freedom. By economical freedom I mean that people should be able to

  • Irina: Thanks for another fine article.

    Julio: Well, I think you can “stop it” by reintroducing private productive property rights and the trading market. These are the basis of “real”–that is, “workable”–socialism. Only with private property rights and the market can the employee associates of industry and commerce come into direct ownership of the instruments of production (which is the very essence of socialism).

    You were absolutely correct some months ago when you argued that the Cuban economic system is a form of monopoly. You convinced me, and we made the adjustment in our modern cooperative socialist theory. We stopped calling it “state socialism” and began calling it “state monopoly socialism.”

    Thank you for your assistance to the world socialist movement.

  • “After all, his good fame and high standard of living take a toll on our rations, which he skims off the top from all of us.”

    Irina , am I mistaken into thinking that Jorgito does and emulates what he and every Cuban have observe from the behavior of the Cuban leadership?
    While Jorgito may be risking his job there are many in high places that have done much worst than he has and they are still at their job.
    Some how to me is interesting to notice the selective enforcing of laws. I am sure they know that Jorgito is corrupt but so are so many others. Does that make it right?
    No. But how to stop it?

    I think that transparency and accountability are necessary. Starting from all the way from the top.

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