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!

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