A Worn-out Discourse

Osmel Almaguer

Cuba and the flag photo by Caridad

I grew up listening to Fidel’s frequent speeches.  I remember them invading the two sole TV channels that existed, as well as all of the radio stations – except Radio Reloj [literally a ticking “clock radio” station].  The newspapers were responsible for announcing these engagements beforehand and echoing them afterwards.

“Today Fidel’s going to speak, so dinner’s going to have to be earlier,” my father would tell my mother.  At the time the order didn’t seem too overbearing, back then there existed one sole truth: that of Fidel and his revolutionary followers.  Therefore, anyone who disagreed with even just one detail of his words or actions was labeled a gusano (a maggot).

In my family there could be no maggots, because we were poor before 1959 and “we owed everything we had to the Revolution.”

That’s why it was necessary to conform to it and to mind it, and the best way known to do this was by supporting it in its foreign policy and its conflict with the USA.

So what else could the Commandant’s speech be about other than praising the merits of the Cuban Revolution and condemning everything that belonged to the capitalist world?  Anything that happened in the world —from a war in the Middle East to a child sleeping in the streets of Brazil— was the fault of those “Americanos.”

This was a superficial form of assessing the unequal relations between the developed world and the rest of it.

Gradually, especially with the crisis of the 1990s, the rhetorical element of his discourse was becoming more evident, even reaching the point that —implicitly or explicitly— many people were thrilled when he stopped speaking on TV.

My family tried to maneuver unscathed in this debacle; notwithstanding, many things changed. The daily struggle for survival made all of us adopt attitudes that 10 years earlier would have been unanimously reviled.  As I grew up I copied the behavior and ideas of my father in terms of forming my own opinion about the world.  Over the years my opinion has gradually changed with the introduction of additional knowledge.

An example of this was when I began to think about the causes that led to the triumph of the Revolution, as well as those that allow the regime to remain in place and those that could force it to disappear.  To list them all would be too tortuous.

However, I believe it’s important to at least mention the:

Basic reasons for the victory:

– The strength of the guerilla army around their leader, Fidel.

– The traditions of struggle in our country.

– People’s hope that life could be different from what they had previously experienced.  The Revolution would be beneficial for “the majority,” as its proponents affirmed.  (I refuse to believe it was the revolutionary “consciousness” of people in 1959, as maintained by those who write our history books.)

To maintain itself, the Revolution has turned to:

– Measures that tend to make the distribution of products more equal, as well as their real impact on the public.

– Total control by the authorities of politics, economics, the military and ideology.

– The overuse of martyrs and national traditions as the symbolic reserves of the nation.

As for the causes of its possible end:

– The divorce between the interests of the masses and the ruling class.

– The loss of faith in the country’s highest leaders by the young generation, who —while not having stopped supporting the revolutionary process— are coming up with ideas they are not allowed to develop.

– The economic crisis caused by monoculture inherited from the colonial and neo-colonial stages, and by the US blockade and embargo of Cuba.

The last conclusion I’ve been able reach about all this is that we live between two currents, and both of them are using us for their own benefit.

Think of what Fidel says: “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.”

So I no longer think in terms of right or left, because neither is going to solve my problems.  Humanity’s fundamental problem lies within itself…and in that which is most intrinsic in the human being: its selfishness.  And no system exists that is capable of changing that.

osmel

Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.


6 thoughts on “A Worn-out Discourse

  • April 9, 2010 at 8:27 am
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    A quick point, if you compare the development of Cuba to other countries in Latin America, it is still vastly ahead, despite some setbacks. I would rather be poor in Cuba than poor in El Salvador, say. And this is despite the fact that El Salvador is able to trade with the primary economic power on the continent, unlike Cuba.

    Anyhow, this is a fundamental issue for the “next generation” to address. I think Raul and Fidel may be too old now to push for revolutionay change to their own systems, and Raul may need to retire in a few years anyways. But if the CP actually wants to maintain the system, it needs to set the framework for reform now.

    I hope, however, that Cuba does not make the mistake of Chinese style reform, or Soviet style reform-totalitarian market socialism on one side, and a corrupt capitalist oligarchy on the other. Moving towards more democratic management schemes would be good, but Cuba has more structural issues, such as poor cash inflows and a trade defecit.

  • April 8, 2010 at 6:22 pm
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    – The economic crisis caused by monoculture inherited from the colonial and neo-colonial stages
    (Cuba was a semi industrial country with a lot of well developed industrial branches and another on development way….. actual regimen policies brought the economical disaster today makes Cuba a monoculture country……. the first victim of this disastrous policies was the tourism industry that perished after regimen decided to isolate Cubans from the rest of the world and closed the country for near 20 years. Of course tourism died and the market niche we left were quickly seized by USA, Mexico, Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Bahamas giving life to huge new cities as Cancun, Miami and Tampa…. same destiny had all other industries)

    ……the US blockade and embargo of Cuba.
    Well, this embargo (blockade never existed) has been nominal after the fall of USSR. But before the fall of commies regimen received a huge subside from USSR. What made regimen with all those resources??

  • April 8, 2010 at 6:11 pm
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    – The divorce between the interests of the masses and the ruling class.
    (That’s true)

    – The loss of faith in the country’s highest leaders by the young generation,…they are not allowed to develop ideas.
    (That’s true too… regime is very afraid of new projects that means a lost of a bit of control over the country. As soon some of those projects implements and people start to create richness by their own, regimen gets in panic and send to the jail all involved)

    – The economic crisis caused by monoculture inherited from the colonial and neo-colonial stages,
    (Well, that’s not exact… we inherited the biggest Sugar industry in the world, the biggest Tobacco industry, one of the biggest tourism industries in America, a big commerce industry, media industry, citric industry, light industry, a huge agricultural industry that made us self sufficient and made us one of the bigger food exporters in America, a huge cattle industry … I have no room for all industries!!!

  • April 7, 2010 at 9:08 pm
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    Thanks, Osmel, for an enlightening, well-presented article.

    Every now and then “alsdaly” takes the words right out of my mouth. For example, he says above: “With intelligent legislation this can be harnessed to the good of the economy by allowing individual and family proprietorships and workers cooperatives that put the means and rewards of production back into the people’s…”

    This is something I or another “modern cooperative socialist” might say.

    The fact that others are saying such things independently means that there something of value there for reforming Cuban socialism, something of “programmatic” value.

    Real, workable socialism, In our humble view, is where state power is in the hands of a sincere transformational party, but where the state does not own and try to administer everything. It would own a significant part of “everything” and get its quarterly revenues therefrom.

    But small proprietors and cooperative workers would own the rest.

  • April 7, 2010 at 7:19 pm
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    Hi Osmel,
    I think you hit the nail on the head with your last paragraph where you state that humanity’s fundamental problem is selfishness. Self interest is an inherent feature of life on this earth. It is the basis for the rampant capitalism that blankets most of this planet. Volunteerism for the greater good as requested of the people in socialist societies is not sustainable unless it is enforced or somehow rewarded with perks and privileges. It has been proven in socialist societies that our propensity to self interest can be modified over time but cannot be entirely eliminated, regardless of the exhortations and moral persuasion of the leadership. The only way to solve this problem is to create structures in society that take advantage of this fact. With intelligent legislation this can be harnessed to the good of the economy by allowing individual and family proprietorships and workers cooperatives that put the means and rewards of production back into the people’s…

  • April 7, 2010 at 6:52 pm
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    Short and sweet. Great article. But Cuba has moved to a remarkable (although difficult) system of sustainable agriculture. And the government has admitted to failures of monoculture and has taken many steps to move away from the old agro-industrial model. And Cuba’s carbon footprint is very small relative to population and economic activity. But Cuba gets no credit for any of this. And here in Canada we are safely moving “forward” without addressing any of these issues because we have a petroleum and natural resources based capitalist economy.

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