Cuba Lives Decades Away from the Present

Kabir Vega

Photo: Ernesto González

HAVANA TIMES – Cuba is a strange island, a country with a warped timeline, a dimension apart in this planet where the present is ten years away from us, in the future.

A country where the capital is made up of buildings that are over 60 years old, many of which are in ruins, and last century’s cars drive along its streets, while technological progress is only thanks to the First World’s left-overs.

We live in a society where your political beliefs are worth more than money, a stagnant economy that prevents any citizen from making progress, a dystopic land ruled by judges who don’t punish evil, but authenticity and the desire to be free instead.

Most foreigners find this Caribbean island to be a fantastic place, a feeling that I can’t help but condemn, especially those who praise Cuba’s revolutionary process and call it the “Communism of Eden”, because they haven’t come to stay, at the end of the day.

Few can imagine what young people have to go through, all the things they have to do so they aren’t left behind.

It wasn’t until the second decade of this milennium that having a computer was more or less commonplace, while it took another ten years for having a “mobile phone with a line” to be normal (a relative “normality” given the fact that you can’t buy a mobile phone or line for it with state-paid wages, much less if you buy this phone from an ETECSA store).

Cuba’s alternative network was born as a result of the spontaneous desire to have access to the Internet, and it is young Cubans’ most bitter wish. They try everything they can to feel “online”, but they just end up more and more unsatisfied as time goes on, wanting to devour real technological advances even more.

And, what can I say about young vanity? Just having a pair of (original) brand shoes means sacrificing food on the table for several months, while back in the early 1990s, Cubans who were going to travel would turn to the internet surfing room in Capitolio, or homes with illegal Internet services, to try and catch up to speed with the latest fashion trends of the country they were going to visit so they would be in keeping with the times.

All of this forms part of such a strange and mindbaffling reality which is really hard for foreigners to understand. This also gives rise to a kind of chronic maladjustment in Cubans who emigrate, when they come face to face with the velocity and rigor of the First World, which is truly online, and they feel like indigenous people in a civilized world.

I recently experienced a small, but frightening, sign of this when I met a primary school child, who asked me whether I knew the Yu-Gi-Oh series (a Japanese comic, cartoon series and card game). I was worried I wouldn’t be able to meet his expectations because it had been years since I had watched the series and I knew both the game and the cartoon had evolved a great deal in the last few seasons. However, he was referring to the oldest version of the cartoon, the one that was broadcast in ‘98 to be exact, and the cards he was playing with were older that my own when I used to follow this trend back in high school. That was seven years ago.

If this child were to travel abroad and play with other children his own age, he would probably suffer a great deal in the beginning, seeing how they leave him out because he doesn’t know anything about the game.

The saddest thing about all of this is that the people who rule this country, their children and grandchildren, don’t live in this warped timeline. They have access to an alternative Cuba that follows the pace of the First World. It’s only the Cuban people, ordinary citizens, who are stuck in a time bubble.

Kabir Vega

I am a young man whose development in life has not been what many might consider normal or appropriate, but I don’t regret it. Although I am very reserved, I dissent strongly from many things. I believe that society, and not only of Cuba, is wrong and needs to change. I love animals sometimes even more than myself since they lack evil. I am also a fan of the world of Otaku. I started in Havana Times because it allowed me to tell some experiences and perhaps encourage some change in my country. I may be naive in my arguments, but I am true to my principles.


24 thoughts on “Cuba Lives Decades Away from the Present

  • February 16, 2019 at 3:45 pm
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    Kabir,
    We are so impressed by your article and your courage to see the real Cuba as well as the world. Your language was very illuminating. The image of Cubans being punished for being authentic was a sad one, for wasn’t freedom from oppression the very goal of the revolution?
    As global travelers we strive to understand the “mindbaffling reality” of Cuba. We keep going back because of the authenticity and warmth of the people that you seek to protect. Keep writing. Your thoughts and experience are valuable.

  • February 13, 2019 at 4:21 am
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    And thank you Christopher. Your words are most enlightening to those who don’t know it, and invaluable testimony for those who have felt it on their own skin.

    I fully believe the kind of Shakespearean ploy that you mention CIA planned to attack Cuba, because it is exactly the kind that my country experienced in practice. (Ours was called Operation merciful angel). As have Iraq, Syria, Zimbabwe, and God knows how many other sovereign nations and peoples in the world.

    I know that humanity watched people burning on a stake for saying Earth is round or for having a beauty spot on their face; I know that it allowed one whole wise race of people to be wiped out, another brought to its land in chains, worked like zoo animals for centuries and then lynched for being there; and yet a third annihilated by atom bombs-twice. But somehow, I still get surprised that world continues to believe the B movie scenario they don’t even bother to change. That USA and its allies are invading countries, bombing their people and cutting them off their lifeline for decades, because these countries and these peoples and their leaders are the ones who are genocidal and who have committed anti-human crimes of Hollywood proportions.

    I am also grateful that you mentioned ‘the white saviour complex’ with which the good people of the world try to help the situation without understanding its cause or its true victims. I too am white, but the history of my people makes me feel more akin to Africans and Native Americans, and I’ve certainly felt the knife pushed in deeper by the tragically misguided humanitarianism of Angelina Jolie and Bono from U2. I think the most hurtful of all for my rock loving kind, was when ‘Nirvana’ wrote on their best album ‘Not for dogs and Serbs’.

    I don’t write about Serbia on any websites, it was a little too personal and hard. Though you’ve inspired me to. Thank you very much Christopher for your interest in my country and the truth of what was done to it, it was a real Hollywood production. I can recommend you read about it in one of Noam Chomsky’s books, like ‘Yugoslavia, peace, war and dissolution’ or listen to it in one of his many interviews on Serbia on Youtube. Ironically, some Americans have made me feel more understood than my own people and I think many are more prepared to fight their politics than UN is.

    PS: I am also very interested in Trinidad and Tobago. What a tragedy that a paradise with money is a paradise with murder. Crime is on the increase in my newly collonized country too.

    All the best

  • February 2, 2019 at 12:42 am
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    Thank you, Minya! I never knew these details about Serbia. I would love to find out more. Do you write on any external websites?

  • February 2, 2019 at 12:38 am
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    Hi Vara, I am curious what you mean when you say “one can see and hear different” regarding the statements about homelessness and unemployment. I have also been to Cuba and traveled around, I certainly did not see or hear anything remotely like the homelessness or unemployment I see all around me in the U.S.A. (Actually I saw none at all in Cuba, but then, I obviously did not see every corner of the country!).

    I agree that it is beautiful. I agree that some things are sad. Most of the sad things I see, as I mentioned above, are the intentional effects of the illegal US blockade. It sounds like you grew up in Miami. (“Cuba is going to bomb us” – absolutely ridiculous but of course exactly what the US officials wanted you to think, in fact, Cuba was so uninterested in attacking the US that US authorities planned all sorts of fake military aggressions by Cuba to justify a US invasion – just google “Operation Northwoods”* even considering secretly bribing Cuban officers to blow up an American ship! see below) …

    Anyway, while I admire and thank you for your kind thoughts and wishes, if you grew up anywhere in the US, I suggest that before you go to Cuba to volunteer to help the homeless and unemployed, you do so in your own country, where those problems are much worse. And if you would really like to help the Cuban people, join the rest of the civilized world in calling for an end to the illegal, immoral, vicious US Embargo on Cuba that causes much of the pain and hardship which we all lament as “so sad” in what otherwise is a beautiful, proud and amazingly brave and strong independent nation. I say this with the utmost respect for you, but as a Caribbean citizen, I honestly feel that the best help American citizens can offer anywhere in the world is to educate yourself about, and become active within America to change, the disastrous and destructive foreign policy of your home country. This would be FAR MORE meaningful and effective than traveling to other countries to fulfill the “white savior” complex by offering some minimal assistance to a problem that was first caused, and in many continues to be exacerbated by the actions of your own government, often without the knowledge and support of the American people!

    * Operation Northwoods was a proposed, and almost implemented, false flag operation against the Cuban government that originated within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) of the United States government in 1962. The proposals called for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or other U.S. government operatives to commit acts of terrorism against American civilians and military targets, blaming them on the Cuban government, and using it to justify a war against Cuba. The plans detailed in the document included the possible assassination of Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S. ship, and orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities. Don’t take my word for it, read the original document yourself from the US National Security Archives! https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//news/20010430/northwoods.pdf

  • January 28, 2019 at 9:59 am
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    Thank you for sharing in this article. I hope you are safe after the tornado.
    I recently visited Cuba and my reaction was “beautiful and sad”. We were told “there is no homelessness in Cuba. There is no unemployment in Cuba”, but one can see and hear different.
    As a child in the US all we knew of Cuba were the regular drills at school – getting under tables and desks, going into hallways, locating “fallout shelters” because Castro was sending the missles to kill us. I was too young to understand all of the political aspects of the issues but knew we were not allowed to travel to Cuba.

    As an adult I wanted to see this mysterious country so near, yet so far away.
    I want to return, stay longer and do more. There are charities there I would like to work with.
    I pray that the country heals and allows it’s people to grow and prosper. I also hope that the afore mentioned “men in grey suits” stay away and Cuba can maintain its beauty and charm….no McDonalds, KFC, etc. to spoil the land!
    Stay true to yourself and grow in knowledge. You are the future of Cuba.

  • January 28, 2019 at 6:54 am
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    I come from a European country that is similar to Cuba, whose people suffered some of what the Cuban people are still going through. So I understand and feel for Kabir’s pain, as I also experienced ‘what happens next’, which I think Christopher answered best.

    I come from Serbia- one sixth of what used to be a happy, successful, independent, socialist, federal, European nation of Yugoslavia. Until the fall of the USSR in 1990, when the remaining world imperialists decided to ‘terminate’ my country too, and set up their bases in it for their own geopolitical interests.

    In order to do that, they induced one of the most brutal and unnatural civil wars in history, (as my country was an intricate Brotherhood and Unity of six republics, two provinces, several ethnic groups and even more mixed marriages). And they pretended that this destruction was started by Serbia- its biggest republic. (Probably because Serbia fought to preserve Yugoslavia that they aimed to destroy, was the historical enemy of imperialists and a political and religious ally of Russia.) So not only did we suffer a decade of unprecedented bloodshed and devastation recently (1990-2000), and not only did we ultimately lose our country, but we were furthermore accused of being its destroyer and were wrongfully punished for it by the whole world.

    My country was taken twenty to thirty years behind all others too by international sanctions, so I’ve experienced a little of what you wrote about, Kabir. For more than ten years, we too had the unthinkable shortages of electricity and water in the middle of Europe, tragically empty shops, vital medicine that could only be gotten illegally, operations that could only be done if you somehow buy the surgeon, 1 000 000 percent inflation, corruption that we still can’t get out of. People with PHDs reduced to driving taxis, once carefree, prosperous and proud people fighting like wild dogs over cherry trees handed out for free by Japan. Friends of my parents being beaten to death by teenagers, because they wouldn’t give them the Nike track shoes or a new- looking jacket they were wearing. It was hell and it made us into the exact savages that they wrongfully accused us of being.

    But worse than the economic devastation was the isolation. Our famous sports teams were banned from international sporting events, our famously beautiful women were banned from World beauty pageants-we were even thrown out of the UN! And to travel anywhere we needed to wait in line for a visa and be interrogated like criminals. Of course, many Serbs still moved out the country, leaving it ever more poor and backward in every way.

    And then came the change. If we weren’t sure what the hell was happening to us, the imperialists were finally tired of hiding their face, we said no to it directly, and got duly bombarded by 19 countries of NATO in 1999. In spite of putting up a heroic and ingenious defense for 78 days, when they wanted to sign a peace treaty, then illogically we caved in. And the part that you are naively wishing for came.

    Yes, we are grateful to God that there is no more war and no more sanctions. I still don’t understand how we endured that, why we stayed in this country and had children in that hell. And yes, we are happy that we can travel freely again, that we are respected again for our beauty, hospitality and intelligence, that what you hear about us now are the conquests of our sportsmen like Novak Djokovic, rather than of our ‘war criminals’.

    And yes, our shops are brimming, are streets are filling with more cars than people, you can take out credit now and show off with wheels that are better suited to Monaco than to dilapidated Belgrade. And our young are all wearing the latest sneakers and the latest Androids. But that’s about it. Is that what Cuba is missing?

    It’s freedom that comes down to a ‘freedom to spend your money’ it seems to me. Freedom to buy any unnecessary thing and throw it away for the next; freedom to prove that you can pay for other countries’ products with your far smaller salary; freedom to watch porn for free on the Internet, phone and TV. Freedom to not care that they’ve taken a third of your country, all of your agriculture, industry and soul while you were watching porn for free or putting botox in your 20 year old face. Is that what the young Cubans are missing?

    When we ‘freed’ ourselves in 2000, we asked a famous English musician who visited us to tell us what he thought of it. His answer, to our surprise, was ‘Oh God, now you’ll get people in grey suits coming in hundreds to sell you something’. And that’s exactly what happened. As regretfully that I sound as boring and unbelievable as him.

    I wouldn’t say ‘Ungrateful little shit’ to you like Nora’s dad did, although I would agree with the rest of his concisely packed emotional reaction.

    It is not ungrateful to want to live in normal circumstances especially as a smart young man who should make something of his life. It is true that life in Cuba can’t be normal for anyone not just passing there, and that it is normal to want it to be normal. It is just that Cuba needs to be very wary and cautioned by other, ‘free-er’ countries’ experience, of whether there is true improvement and freedom in the offered alternative.

    No mortal being has devised a perfect political system, no country has reached Utopia, and those populations that we envy living well in millions, do so by stealing the life and peace of the rest of the world. Their only success is in distracting us and themselves from it and buying time of ‘what goes around, comes around.’

    I am disappointed with how easily my people’s rebellious, brave spirit is bought by shiny beads even in the 21st century, and I was hoping, like all those tourists, that Cuba has alone not fallen for it, that there was one remaining place in the world I could raise my kids into normal people. But I think our best hope is to use this Internet to join our minds over the oceans, and fixate upon something better than us humans in creating a better world. Stronger in resisting the devil’s trap that we can either be rich and bad, or good and dead.

    Love from Serbia Belgrade

  • January 27, 2019 at 4:12 pm
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    I just returned from my fifth visit to Cuba. The first four visits included visits to Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Trinidad de Cuba, Cienfuegos and Havana. The most recent visit (just returned to NYC just 5 days ago) was to experience the Havana Jazz Festival. I totally disagree with the opinion of Kabir Vega. This writer failed to mention that the vast majority of children in Cuba receive an education; they do not appear to be hungry; they are very eager to chat with visitors (in English or Spanish). In response to the writer who talks about “light skin humans and dark skinned Cubans”, lest we forget— This sounds very much like New York City, where I live and many other American cities. As I know we will all agree, this phenomenon is one of the many results of racism. What I love and admire most about Cuba and its people, is their resilience. In spite of all its physical short-comings, I deeply admire the spirit of the people I have met and spoken with in Cuba. There is a visible resilience against poverty, lack of physical possessions and their strong spirit to make do (and a continuance to pursue improvement in every area).

  • January 26, 2019 at 2:39 pm
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    Do young Cubans speculate on what their political economy should look like? If not this, then what? More importantly, how to change.

    The US would gladly step in to transform Cuba they way the did Russia in the 90’s with their “shock doctrine”. Today Russia has 95 billionaires, a small struggling middle class and a 120 million workers who struggle everyday. During Russia’s “special period” the life span for males plunged by five to seven years.

    Capitalism is alive and well in Russia, but the average Russian citizen still struggles. This doesn’t mean there is no way out for Cuba. But a new political imagination must take shape before a new direction can be forged.

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