Losing Good Values in Cuba’s Hard Times

Look at the large number of foreigners. Go and ask them for some coins to buy cookies and a soda… and bring me what they give you.   Illustration by Carlos

HAVANA TIMES – We have experienced tough times in our country, some more than others, but the Cuban people have always suffered countless shortages; it was only thanks to aid from the COMECON (Socialist bloc) that we were better off for a while, when everything was readily available and quite cheap on the whole.

The toughest time Cubans experienced was in the ‘90s, with the so-called Special Period, with blackouts lasting over half a day, without anything to eat, no transport whatsoever, etc; and things really did reach breaking point.

There are many stories from those trying days, which are best kept locked away in our memories. Yet the majority of Cubans faced and put up with that awful time, even in those conditions. Especially women who worked wonders in the kitchen so that their children were able to put something in their mouths at least once a day. If anyone deserves credit for that time in this country, it’s Cuban women. They knew how to overcome the toughest times with hard work, modesty and integrity.

However, over time and as things gradually got worse, the general population has lost some of human beings’ best values, and this continues today, even among families, friends and society as a whole. The president Diaz Canel recently voiced his concern in this regard at the last session of the National Assembly of People’s Power. Raul Castro also did this when it was his time in power. Today, you can hear remarks on the street by people who are worried about the situation.

Just a few days ago, I bore witness to a horrible scene. I was crossing the Cathedral Plaza in Havana when I saw how a woman speaking to a very small girl. She pointed to a group of Spanish tourists and egged her on to ask them for some candy or money. The girl did exactly that, and yes, they even carried her and gave her a few things. Both the woman (I’m not sure if she was the child’s mother) and the girl were well-dressed and not at all skinny, you could tell that they weren’t in dire need of help.

I have seen similar cases around this area on other occasions and I wonder: where are these people’s values? And the values of people who send their children to hang around hotels and hunt down foreigners so they can “fall in love” with them, marry them, take them far away so they can receive the prize: a few miserable pesos or cheap trinkets.

What father or mother can sleep at night after teaching their child to beg, to prostitute themselves? Scenes like this one, unprincipled people like these, leave a great deal to be desired from a society which aspires to be a global reference of correctness and ethical values.

So, if we really want dignified Cubans and a dignified country, respected by others, we will have to fight to get rid of the miserly philosophy of getting godforsaken money no matter what the cost.

Ideology or race don’t matter, nor does a person’s sexual orientation or religion, we just need a society where people don’t become werewolves, but brothers and sisters instead. A society with ethical values and especially a sense of belonging, identity and inner light. Would that be possible? If we do manage to achieve this one day, then we can be happy and proud to call ourselves Cuban.


Miguel Arias

Miguel Arias Sánchez: I was born in Regla in 1949. That’s where I went to elementary and high school. Afterwards I took courses to be a teacher and did that for several years. I did my military service and as soon as I got out I studied formally to be a teacher graduating at the University of Havana. I taught in classrooms for nearly 20 years. I had the opportunity to travel and see another reality. I returned and am currently doing different self-employed activities.

21 thoughts on “Losing Good Values in Cuba’s Hard Times

  • I agree with your analysis Dan and noted your comment that some tourists “still not see through the veil – one of the motivations for me writing ‘Cuba Lifting the Veil’. For many years and twice per year, I backpacked, usually 16-18 km per day on rough terrain and sometimes at fairly high altitudes (how else does one look down into an active volcano?) in a substantial number of countries. Doing so enabled meeting local people in isolated locations and absorbing the ambience of each country.
    When I first visited Cuba I did so as a member of an international group of fairly distinguished agricultural scholars. But prior to the others flying in, I spent four days staying in the Chateau Hotel Mirimar and on the first day walked the length of 5th Avenue, through the tunnel, along the length of the Malecon to see Old Havana – and then walked back taking different routes where possible – first view of the Karl Marx Theatre. When the other scholars flew in, I joined them at the airport and we spent several days looking at Cuban agriculture – both individual “farmers” and co-operatives. We enjoyed doing so, but learned little. The major effect for me was meeting my wife to be in a typical small town where the reality of life in Cuba was evident. Some three years later following lots of prolonged visits, we married and live in a city that seldom sees a tourist. As my wife works professionally in education, I do the daily shopping and walk the dog – I don’t have a bicycle!
    Unlike Wendy, I don’t need to talk about qualifications – they are not inconsiderable and I have had agricultural articles and the results of research published in several countries – but that is all now behind me.
    But the consequence of all that experience, coupled with marriage and living most of my time at home in Cuba, has perhaps made me a touch intolerant of mis-representation of things agricultural and political in Cuba. We have traveled Cuba from the Roncali lighthouse at the end of the Guanahacabibes Peninsula to the concrete statue of Christopher ‘Colon’ at Baracoa, staying always in casa particulares. As described in the introduction of that book, I have political experience, making me a staunch supporter of the democratic processes and one who detests totalitarian dictatorship, and that is the reality of Cuba.
    I share the hope expressed by the anonymous author of the article that Cubans may yet know the freedoms and opportunities which are the norm in the western democracies and live in their beautiful country free of repression with freedom of expression, freedom of the media and freedom to vote for political parties of choice. They deserve no less!

  • Carlyle,
    I think in the most general terms, regardless of identity or country of origin of this article’s author, that it falls into two very broad camps. When people travel, for whatever reason, some want the same basic comforts and conditions they have at home, and some want to get away from that and experience something different. This is true with any country you can visit–some tourists or groups choose accommodations and experiences that essentially preserve or emulate the conditions of their lives at home (resorts, with the comforts of home or better!)…while some seek to experience ‘real’ things in the country of travel. Now we can all disagree over what constitutes real, and how real something is or is not, but I think for the latter group, real comes by degrees–and with each visit, things seem more real. Whereas if one stays in an all-inclusive resort, or has some vague reluctance to immersion in Cuban culture, then I don’t things get more real with each visit. Just my opinion, but I do think it has something to do with how a person (or a group of visiting international agrologists) could visit for 20 years and still not see through the veil.

  • Dan, I am glad to see your response to Wendy who clearly belongs to a group of Canadians who are supportive of the Castro regime and do not care to address reality that both of us observe. There is an almost “do-gooder” syndrome lurking in many of them which blinds them from accepting that they are merely observers and makes them feel content as if they are contributing. It was the current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who wrote of Fidel Castro:
    “I know that my father (Pierre Elliot Trudeau former Prime Minister) was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet my Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons (actually Fidel had eight) and his brother President Raul Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.
    On behalf of all Canadians (a totally bogus claim) Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.”
    So Wendy does reflect a certain form of Canadian Liberal view.
    You will note above that having been challenged, Wendy has resorted to pleading her case as a “Professional Agrologist” and terminated discussion – obviously recognizing (correctly) that someone else knows the truth about both Cuban, Canadian and agriculture internationally. Unlike Wendy, I do not have to resort to seeking protection under a professional shell. It is also possible that I have been recognized in other countries for my knowledge of the agricultural industry.
    Many Canadians suffer from living in a large but isolated country with little international experience in their professional roles. Yes, Canada is possibly on balance the best country in the world, but that does not make the population superior, only fortunate.
    There are exceptions, but they are not the rule.

  • As a Professional Agrologist with over 40 years of Canadian agricultural policy experience I could not disagree more with your observations. You are wrong about farming in Canada AND in Cuba. End of this discussion for me…

  • Sorry Wendy but if you’ve been bringing groups there for 20 years, and after all that time, your conclusion is that everyone gets what they need in Cuba, I’d suggest opening your eyes and maybe adding a humanitarian touch to your visits. I don’t think it depends entirely on how deeply embedded in ‘real’ Cuban society one is, or how many times one visits Cuba or where one goes when visiting. Any perceptive person quickly sees two things in Cuba that are disturbing: 1) government often says one thing but does another (this may be true everywhere); and 2) poverty in Cuba is real, and runs deep. Cuba’s poverty is perhaps the sum of a warped dual currency, the embargo, a warped socio-political system, and corruption. Yes, some people will tell stories and try to play tourists to give them money, but overall, it is patently clear that poverty in Cuba goes way, way beyond the hustle and the stories you see and hear in Havana. In my own country I have my own feelings about whether or not to give money to people who are begging or hustling. I often don’t, but now and then I am taken by someone’s charisma and don’t care if they spend my $1 or $5 on food, booze or whatever. Of course if someone smells like booze, I assume that’s where the money will go and I don’t give it. But one can’t always tell, and for me, based on my mood or what someone says, I may or may not do it. However…in another country it is much harder to read all the cues and signals and I have had many Cubans tell me they don’t appreciate foreigners giving money to beggars, so I don’t. But not because I suspect they really get all they need from their gov’t; it is more out of respect for those people who say it’s not a behavior they want visitors to reinforce. But I don’t consider hungry kids in rags beggars or hustlers. I just consider that sad. And anyone paying attention has seen that many times in Cuba in various parts of the country. We can talk about why the Cuban government has let down their people or how their talk of ‘benefits’ and ‘guarantees’ is a farce, or we can talk about parents’ responsibilities and why some parents can make it work while others can’t (as we can in the US)–but in the end, if some kids are basically left to fend for themselves, that is sad, and helping out in some way seems kind. Not a solution in the long run, but geez, when we visit with our disposable income, it should be hard to turn a blind eye.

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